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Dalai Lama's Britain Visit Raises Questions of Protocol

May 22, 2008

By John F. Burns and Alan CowelL
The New York Times
May 21, 2008

LONDON -- The Dalai Lama arrived in London on Tuesday as part of a protracted foreign tour, highlighting efforts by European governments to balance China's hostility toward him against their support for human rights in Tibet.

At his previous stop in Germany, the Dalai Lama was received at a relatively low political level, met by only one government minister, in sharp contrast to last September when he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel. That meeting had prompted a long chill in relations with Beijing. This time, though, the chancellor was out of town on a week-long tour of Latin America.

In London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown was embroiled in a debate over the level of warmth he should display toward China at the 2008 Summer Olympics in light of Beijing's recent crackdown on dissent in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama on Tuesday seemed eager to avoid inflaming the dispute with China, although he did refer to China's rule in Tibet at one point as totalitarian. The remark was made during a speech at London Metropolitan University, where he received an honorary degree. In unscripted remarks delivered in English, he was critical of China's role in education in his homeland.

"In Tibet, although the Chinese did help in modern education," he said, "the totalitarian system is one-sided, every field is much politicized. It does not give a complete form of education."

According to the Dalai Lama's official program for his 11-day visit to Britain, he will meet Mr. Brown only at an encounter with the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, at what the prime minister's office called "an interfaith dialogue with several other religious leaders."

Breaking with a tradition established by two British prime ministers, John Major and Tony Blair, Mr. Brown will not receive the Dalai Lama at 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's official residence.

The scheduling inspired complaints from politicians and others who support Tibetans in their struggle against China, and who maintain that the British authorities have played down the Dalai Lama's status to avoid conflict with China, a key trade partner.

"Treating the Dalai Lama as only a religious leader simply ignores reality," said Sir Menzies Campbell, the former leader of the small opposition Liberal Democrats. "There is no reason why he should not be received at No. 10 Downing Street."

"Many people will conclude that the prime minister is trying to have it both ways, to see him and not offend the Chinese government," Sir Menzies said.

Representatives of the London-based Free Tibet Campaign said Mr. Brown would be the first Western leader to meet the Dalai Lama since widespread protests and violence between Tibetans and the Chinese authorities in March. "It is vital that the British government treat the Dalai Lama not just as a religious leader but also as a political figure," said Matt Whitticase, a representative of the campaign.

"Gordon Brown is refusing to meet him in a political setting, underplaying his importance as a political leader especially at a time when his importance has been emphasized by the Tibetan people and people across the world," Mr. Whitticase told The Press Association, a news agency. "There is a deep-seated political problem in Tibet and the Dalai Lama holds the key, and he should therefore be met in a political setting."

The Dalai Lama is on a three-month tour of five countries, including the United States, and he used his visit to Germany to underline his insistence that he is not seeking Tibet's independence from China.

But according to Agence France-Presse, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, warned Germany on Tuesday "to not support in any form or connive with the Dalai's anti-China separatist activities on German soil."

In Britain, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to give several speeches, to address a parliamentary foreign affairs panel and to speak to audiences in Nottingham and Oxford.

John F. Burns reported from London, and Alan Cowell from Paris.
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