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Dalai Lama Visit Jeopardizes German Business Interests

September 17, 2007

Angela Merkel has invited the Dalai Lama to engage in a "private exhange of thoughts" at the Chancellery. The Chinese authorities are not pleased and German businessmen are worried too.

Neither newspapers nor Web sites nor the official news agency Xinhua have informed the Chinese people about German Chancellor Angela Merkel's controversial plan to receive the Dalai Lama at the Chancellery for a "private exchange of thoughts" on Sept. 23.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing summoned Germany's new ambassador to China, Michael Schäfer, on Friday to protest the planned meeting. It is thought that an encounter between Merkel and the religious leader of the Tibetan Buddhists would strain relations between Berlin and Beijing.

Some Chinese officials have voiced distrust about Merkel in recent weeks, suspecting the former East German citizen of having a "false image of China." The skeptics in the Chinese government are now likely to feel their suspicions have been confirmed. Meanwhile, German businesspeople in China are concerned about their business deals. "The Chinese will make us feel their displeasure," one of said. Other businessmen would not exclude the possibility that ongoing negotiations over possible business contracts could be stalled.

The Chinese Communist Party considers the Dalai Lama a separatist and a traitor who wants to separate Tibet from China, thus "splitting" the People's Republic. Chinese troops occupied Tibet, popularly known as the "Roof of the World," in 1951. The Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala in northern India in 1959 and has lived in exile there since. He advocates far-reaching autonomy for Tibet.

Not all governments consider the Dalai Lama a welcome guest, given Beijing's ability to exert economic pressure. In Germany, the Dalai Lama has so far met with opposition politicians as well as with two of the country's previous foreign ministers, Klaus Kinkel and Joschka Fischer. In 1990, Richard von Weizsäcker, then Germany's president, spoke to him. Angela Merkel met the Dalai Lama when she was leader of the parliamentary opposition.

She would now be the first German government leader to receive the Tibetan, who offered a humorous characterization of the widespread reluctance to meet with him in a SPIEGEL interview: "It's an interesting phenomenon among politicians: When they are not yet government leaders or presidents, they meet with me. Afterwards, they avoid me so as not to annoy Beijing -- then, economic relations with the People's Republic take priority."

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