Tag Archives: Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama Calculation

All Western leaders have to make a political calculation over the Dalai Lama: what is the value of showing support for human rights by meeting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader minus infuriating China?

U.K. prime minister David Cameron seems to have got his reckoning wrong. Beijing cancelled a visit to Britain by Wu Bangguo, chairman of the National People’s Congress standing committee, after Cameron and Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister and leader of Cameron’s party’s coalition partner, met the Dalai Lama earlier this month when he was in London to receive the Templeton prize. The meeting was billed as private and held not on government premises but at St. Paul’s Cathedral during the award ceremony. Beijing still regarded this as an “affront to the Chinese people”, and launched “solemn representations” with London.

The symbolism of canceling a visit by Wu, who is second in the Politburo hierarchy, may be lost on many Britons outside diplomatic and Sino-centric circles, who likely won’t have heard of him and would be surprised to learn Wu outranks the prime minister they may have heard of, Wen Jiabao. Those in diplomatic and Sino-centric circles will be decoding where the cancellation ranks among rebukes. Wu is not only senior but also the most senior Chinese to travel to the UK in recent years, but his visit was going to be no more than a stopover en route to Europe. Nor was the cancellation officially announced. It only emerged after Wu’s trip had started.

France was given the cold shoulder after its then president, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced plans to meet the Dalai Lama in 2008. A China-EU summit he would have chaired was scuppered and new big-ticket commercial deals with France stopped for a couple of years, but then resumed. Smaller countries get harsher treatment. Norway, where the 2010 Nobel peace prize was presented to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident currently imprisoned for subversion, has yet to return to Beijing’s good books.

The U.K. may be commercially too important to China to be left standing in the corner for too long. London is making a great play to be the non-Asian trading hub for the yuan as Beijing pushes it towards a greater role in the international financial system. The only viable alternative to be London would be New York, a switch that would have officials in Beijing making a separate set of calculations of their own.

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China-U.S. Relations Wobble Further

Over the almost two decades the Dalai Lama has been calling on American presidents at the White House, this Bystander can’t recall even once when Beijing had a good word to say about the visit. Equally we can’t recall a condemnation as strong as the one following the exiled Tibetan leader’s meeting with President Barack Obama. The White House choreographed the visit as artfully as it could to keep it low key (Map Room not Oval Office, for example) and Obama was deliberate in acknowledging Tibet as part of China. But to no avail. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu:

“The U.S. act grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, gravely hurt the Chinese people’s national sentiments and seriously damaged the Sino-U.S. ties.”

What is as interesting is commentary in state media. This presents the meeting in a context of a combination of Obama’s need to deflect attention from his domestic political and economic problems and America’s discomfort with the erosion of its power in the face of China’s rise. The several references to the U.S.’s “Cold War” mentality towards the U.S.-China relationship caught our eye, not so much because it subtly casts the U.S. as part of the past but because it implicitly suggests that China is writing  new rules of international relations. Those, to borrow the jargon of the business world, will be for a world comprised of ‘frenemies’, for a new Great Game in which China will do much better than one in which its given role is to play the part of the old Soviet Union.

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Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize

Beijing coped a break with the Nobel Peace prize going to Barack Obama. For that meant it wasn’t awarded to a Chinese dissident. China’s human rights record escapes another round of global scrutiny, something Obama could have discussed with his now fellow laureate, the Dalai Lama, when they meet. Ah!

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China To Meet Dalai Lama’s Envoys

China says it will meet the Dalai Lama’s envoys. It is a change of tactics in what has been a campaign to vilify the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader since the anti government protests started in March, though Xinhua claims the door of dialogue has remained open.

China has been under international pressure to talk to the Dalai Lama who, Beijing says, is the guiding hand behind the unrest. The two sides have held several rounds of inconclusive talks over the past five years.

No details yet of when these latest talks might take place. And as with Beijing’s similar public softening of its stance over Darfur in the face of international calls for it to do so, not much of substance is likely to change.

Another notable change of PR tactics by Beijing: when the Olympic torch passed through the Australian capital Canberra on Thursday pro-China supporters heavily outnumbered pro-Tibet ones as the large ex-pat community in Australia was mobilized.

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Paris Honors The Dalai Lama

After a weekend of intensifying anti-French protests in China in response to the pro-Tibet protests in the French capital on Apr. 7 when the Olympic torch was there, the Paris city council has bestowed the title of “honorary citizen” on the Dalai Lama. This may be taking Gallic insouciance a step too far.

Update: “The decision of the Paris city council to bestow ‘honorary citizen of Paris’ on Dalai will only be seen as another severe provocative act against 1.3 billion Chinese people… China urges France to take immediate and effective measures to eliminate the negative impact caused by its erroneous act… and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, so as to safeguard China-France relations through concrete actions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement posted on the ministry’s web site on Tuesday.

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Fog Over Tibet. News Cut Off

Piecing together what is now happening in Tibet is difficult beyond the obvious fact that Lhasa is being heavily policed and the country in general garrisoned to damp down any re-combustion of last week’s violence.

The BBC reports house to house searches in Lhasa and that one of its correspondents in western China had seen long convoys of military vehicles heading across the mountains into Tibet, to add, presumably, to the large numbers of troops already there. Prime minister Web Jiaboa has made his first public comment on the subject, unilluminatingly accusing the Dalai Lama of masterminding the demonstrations, and defending the way they were dealt with.

With Tibet effectively closed to journalists, we are being reminded of the modern truth that if we don’t see something on television we don’t know its true. Worse, we are getting the black and white public stances of both sides, whereas the truth is inevitably grey. In any conflict there are usually three sides, the two antagonists and those on neither of their sides. Beijing Newspeak has a read-worthy post on that and the reporting by his former employer, Xinhua. EastSouthWestNorth shows how what little we do know can be read either way. Props, too, to Mutant Palm for trying to bridge the understanding gap with his Tibet Tweets posts and his evangelising of establishing direct contact with Chinese netizens.

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