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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Europe's Diplomatic Dance With The Dalai Lama

May 24, 2008

Lionel Laurent
May 22. 2008

LONDON -- It's tough being a European politician when the Dalai Lama comes to town.

Although the spiritual leader of the Tibetans champions the kind of values that sit well with the average Western democracy--human rights, fraternal dialogue, peace--he ends up being a political headache for those who would rather keep on the good side of China, especially considering its current economic clout.

The Dalai Lama's current visit to Britain, which runs until the end of May, has already seen Prime Minister Gordon Brown do his own spot of political juggling. Brown decided against meeting the revered figure at 10 Downing Street, instead opting for Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and supposedly a more fitting place to meet a "respected spiritual leader."

Brown is not alone. The Dalai Lama's visit to Germany earlier this month resulted in an even more significant snub--the German foreign minister refused to meet with the Tibetan leader. Admittedly, the stakes were higher: Chancellor Angela Merkel attracted intense criticism from China for holding talks with the Dalai Lama last year, and the foreign minister--who is not in the same political party as Merkel--may have been keen to turn things around.

"The leaders in the West tend to now show greater caution and think several times about doing things that might offend China," said Jonathan Fenby, an analyst with research firm Trusted Sources. He told that the balancing act had grown more difficult of late, with the growing economic importance of China on the one hand and recent unrest in Tibet on the other.

And even though the Dalai Lama has not promoted independence or secession for Tibet on his latest round of international appearances, his popularity and strong public image still provoke strong reactions from Chinese officials.

"China is strongly against any nation, organization or individual using the Dalai Lama issue to interfere in China's internal affairs," a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency on Tuesday. He added that Germany should not allow the Dalai Lama to conduct "secessionist activities" on its territory.

And last month, China blasted Paris' city council for awarding the Dalai Lama honorary citizenship in the French capital, a move opposed by members of President Nicolas Sarkozy's party. (See: "China Blasts Paris For Honoring Dalai Lama")
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