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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Snub sends wrong signal, says Dalai Lama envoy

August 4, 2009

The Dalai Lama has visited Switzerland 21 times since 1973
Simon Bradley
www.swissinfo.ch
August 2, 2009

The decision by the Swiss government not to meet
the Dalai Lama gives the wrong signal, says
Kelsang Gyaltsen, the Dalai Lama's Swiss-based European envoy.

The 74-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader and
Nobel Peace Prize laureate is visiting
Switzerland for the 22nd time this week to hold
talks and lectures on Buddhism and world peace.

The Swiss government has caused controversy by
deciding against an official meeting with the
Dalai Lama. Critics say this reflects pressure from China.

swissinfo.ch: What is your reaction to the fact
that there will be no official meeting with a Swiss cabinet minister?

K.G.: His holiness doesn't wish to cause any
inconvenience to any host government. It is
alright if certain governments don't meet him.

But as a Swiss-Tibetan I am disappointed with
this decision by the Swiss government. This is
not helpful; it doesn't send the right signal to
the Chinese leadership that they need to rethink
their policy regarding Tibet and minorities in China.

It is my strong conviction that members of the
international community must make clear to the
Chinese government that it must resolve the
Tibetan issue through dialogue and negotiation and not pressure and bullying.

As a Swiss-Tibetan I also believe that this
decision is not in Switzerland's interest.
Switzerland has a reputation as a country
committed to humanitarian values and traditions
and to the ideals of freedom and democracy. By
not meeting with the Dalai Lama the decision of
the federal council [government] is in some way
damaging the credibility of these values for
which Switzerland stands in the eyes of the international community.

swissinfo.ch: What are the prospects for a
rapprochement between the Tibetans in exile
abroad, led by Dalai Lama, and the Chinese government?

K.G.: The position of the Dalai Lama and the
Tibetan government remains unchanged. We are not
seeking separation or independence for Tibet. We
are striving for genuine autonomy for Tibetan
people within the People's Republic of China.

The Chinese government knows that we stand ready
to continue the dialogue process as soon as there
is a clear signal from Beijing that the Chinese
government is serious to discuss the real issue
facing the Tibetans inside Tibet. At the moment
we are waiting for a positive signal from Beijing.

swissinfo.ch: What are you hearing about the current atmosphere in Tibet?

K.G.: The situation inside Tibet is still very
grim. The prevailing atmosphere is one of intimidation and fear.

Most areas are still restricted, so no foreign
tourists or outsiders can enter. We hear about
arrests and heavy sentences handed down to
Tibetans on a daily basis. There still seems to
be tight security and a military presence in many
areas. And according to recent information, the
Chinese have installed cameras to monitor
people's movements, even in remote places.

The restrictions of movement are very severe; in
some cities you need to get permission even if
you want to move from part to another.

swissinfo.ch: The Dalai Lama's succession is a
sensitive issue as he ages. How concerned are you
about the future when he is no longer around?

K.G.: Of course the absence of the Dalai Lama
will be a great setback for the Tibetan people, there is no doubt about that.

But his holiness and the Tibetan government in
exile are preparing for that time by making
vigorous efforts to democratise our institutions
and society. The future doesn't depend on only
one person and the responsibility of Tibetans'
freedom is shouldered by every individual Tibetan.

Since 2001 we have elected a political
leadership. All Tibetans in exile vote for the
prime minister of the Tibetan government in
exile. So we already have very sound democratic
institutions and democratic structures.

We believe the Dalai Lama will live for many
years. He is in excellent health so we have solid
grounds to believe that his lifespan will be
longer than that of the Chinese Communist Party.

swissinfo.ch: You were given refuge in
Switzerland in 1963 at the age of 11, together
with other Tibetan orphans, and you have lived
here for over 40 years. What is your relationship to Switzerland and to Tibet?

K.G.: I am a Swiss-Tibetan. I am very grateful to
Switzerland for giving me a second home. I think
the values and humanitarian tradition of
Switzerland and history of freedom and democracy
are very important values that have influenced my
world outlook and my own values.

At the same time, even though I grew up in
Switzerland, I grew up among Tibetans and had a
Tibetan monk teacher who taught me Buddhism and
Tibetan language and history so I think Buddhist
concepts and values are an essential part of my being.

I believe there is a strong psychological and
emotional bond between the Swiss and the
Tibetans. Both people have a strong sense of
identity as mountain people. Both countries are
small, sandwiched by big neighbours and as a
result are very proud of their distinct identities.

I feel very much at home and at ease in
Switzerland. My children were born here and go to
school here. Switzerland has become my second
home in the true sense of the word.

SWISS PERSPECTIVE:
Switzerland supports dialogue between the Chinese
authorities and Tibetan religious leaders,
including the Dalai Lama, says foreign ministry spokesman Andreas Stauffer.

The international community, including
Switzerland, recognises Tibet as an autonomous
region of China, ranked as a province since 1951, the ministry says.

Switzerland does not recognise the Tibetan
government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, India
and has no formal contact with its
representatives. The ministry argues that only
dialogue can resolve the Tibetan issue in a way
that is appropriate for an autonomous region and
with respect for human rights, including the
issue of religious freedom and cultural rights.

Switzerland says Tibet is among its areas of
concern, which it regularly raises with China.

Switzerland was the first western country to
institutionalise a human rights dialogue with
China. This dialogue, launched in 1991, has
resulted in regular meetings between the two
countries. The tenth round of talks was held in
Beijing in July 2008 and the 11th is planned for this summer.

CONTEXT:

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to visit Lausanne
from August 4-5 to attend a conference at Malley
ice rink to discuss the "art of happiness" and
Buddhist principles, to be attended by over 12,000 visitors.

A meeting is planned with Pascal Broulis,
chairman of the Vaud cantonal government,
parliamentarian Philippe Leuba, and other senior Vaud cantonal officials.

On August 6 he will meet the speaker of the House
of Representatives, Chiara Simoneschi-Cortesi,
who has been asked to welcome the spiritual
leader on behalf of the Swiss government, which
has decided against an official meeting.

The Dalai Lama will later give a keynote address
to a Sino-Tibetan conference in Geneva attended
by over 100 Chinese and Tibetan scholars, writers, journalists and activists.

The Dalai Lama has visited Switzerland 21 times
since 1973 and has met cabinet ministers informally five times.

Switzerland is home to an estimated 4,000
Tibetans. They are said to form the biggest
Tibetan community in Europe, and the third-largest in the world.

Kelsang Gyaltsen, who was born in Batang in
eastern Tibet in 1952, was given refuge in
Switzerland in 1963 after fleeing to India. He
has since studied and worked in Switzerland for
over 40 years. In 1999 he became the Dalai Lama's
envoy to Europe. He is also one of the two envoys
responsible for conducting dialogue with
representatives of the Chinese government.

LINKS
* Representative of the Dalai Lama in Europe -
Geneva office (http://www.tibetoffice.ch)
* Foreign ministry - Tibet
(http://www.eda.admin.ch/eda/en/home/reps/asia/vchn/bilchi/biltib.html)
* Chinese embassy in Switzerland (German, French)
(http://www.china-embassy.ch/fra/)
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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