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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

A Slap at the Dalai Lama

May 25, 2008

The New York Times
May 22, 2008

Last September, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, courageously broke with her predecessors and met with the Dalai Lama. China predictably objected, soon joined by Mrs. Merkel’s vice chancellor and foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who accused her of trying to “showcase” human rights.

Now Mr. Steinmeier has one-upped himself, refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama, who was on a five-day visit to Germany while Mrs. Merkel was out of the country. The only German official to meet with the Dalai Lama was the development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who properly considered it one of the “core tasks” of her office. Mr. Steinmeier issued the cynical statement that “it takes a lot of courage not to meet with the Dalai Lama these days.”

Presumably it also took great courage for Mr. Steinmeier to rush to Moscow to lavishly congratulate the new president, Dmitri Medvedev, again in contrast to Mrs. Merkel, who grew up in East Germany and has been critical of the Kremlin over human rights. Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Steinmeier come from competing parties, and their service in the same government is a matter of necessity, not preference. Still, it was destructive of Mr. Steinmeier to break ranks with the leader of his government on human rights. The signal is that Germany will do anything to make money in China.

Mr. Steinmeier’s defenders will undoubtedly argue that “quiet diplomacy” is better than a public rebuke. If he has been involved in any quiet diplomacy in China, or Russia, or Uzbekistan, or anyplace else he has shown his “courage,” it is hard to find evidence of it. Meeting leaders like the Dalai Lama, and trying to mediate in the crucial talks he is holding with Beijing, is a “core task” of a foreign minister.

Fortunately, the German people are more stalwart than their foreign minister, as 25,000 turned out at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to hear the Dalai Lama express his condolences to China over the earthquake. He is in Britain now, and he is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
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