General Debate – Dalai Lama visit

New Zealand is privileged to have the Dalai Lama visiting our shores next week. It was a little disturbing, when I asked the Prime Minister a question in the House, yesterday, about whether she would be meeting the Dalai Lama, to be told by the Acting Prime Minister that the matter was still under consideration. I was concerned as this shows disrespect to such an important world leader. A leader in the Buddhist community worldwide and a Nobel Prize winner for his contributions to peace in trying to help solve the situation of the Tibetan people under Chinese rule and enable them to have full rights within a truly autonomous Tibet. I was disturbed, because this visit has been long in the making.

The Prime Minister’s office has known about the visit from the Dalai Lama for a couple of years, and it is now just a few days away from his arrival. Obviously, putting two and two together, one would think there has been considerable pressure from the Chinese Government, which was certainly the case in Australia. The pressure there initially convinced the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, and also the leader of the Australian Labor Party, Kevin Rudd, not to meet the Dalai Lama. But after a huge public outcry – of which the Australian Greens Party was a part, particularly in the form of Senator Bob Brown – the Prime Minister John Howard suddenly found a little space in his diary, and the leader of the Labor Party, Kevin Rudd, also seems to have found space in his diary, to meet the Dalai Lama. That is very good, although, as an indication of the pressure from the Chinese Government, a spokesperson came out and expressed its “strong dissatisfaction and staunch opposition to the Australian side for allowing the Dalai Lama to (come to) Australia to engage in splittist activities,” — “splittist activities”, despite the fact that the Dalai Lama accepts that Tibet will not be completely independent, but will be, in his view, fully autonomous within China. Obviously, the Chinese officials are taking an interest here, too. The Green Party was visited and asked whether we would be seeing the Dalai Lama. Of course we are, and we will be part of a reception hosted by the Hon Nick Smith on behalf of the Parliamentary Lobby Group for Tibet next Tuesday afternoon at 3.30 p.m. I hope there is a good turn-out of MPs at that event.

I think it is important that the Prime Minister meets the Dalai Lama, because if she does not it could be taken as the beginning of a slippery slope. All sorts of interpretations could be put on the situation, such as that it is because of the economic power of China. It could be interpreted that somehow in the background is the issue of the free-trade agreement and that we do not want to upset the Chinese too much in terms of pursuing that.

I still have hopes that the Prime Minister will meet the Dalai Lama. Yesterday in the House in question time, the Acting Prime Minister, Michael Cullen, told me he thought the Dalai Lama said he was coming here as a religious leader not a political leader. I think this coment was used last time a Government leader met the Dalai Lama a year or two ago – that they were meeting, but not in the Dalai Lama’s capacity as a political leader. It is true that the Dalai Lama does not have a formal political title, but he does represent the political aspirations of the Tibetan people to self-determination within China. When one reads his speeches, it is clear they are very much political speeches promoting a peaceful middle-way. In that respect he is seen, politically, as not only a religious leader internationally but a leading political figure.

Another thing I will be doing is putting a notice of motion on the Order Paper so that Parliament can recognise the visit of the Dalai Lama and welcome his visit here, as other Parliaments have done.