PM should stop equivocating about Dalai Lama meeting

The Green Party has criticised the Government for equivocating about whether nor not the Prime Minister will meet the Dalai Lama when he visits Wellington next Tuesday.

“The delay is not acceptable, and is an insult to a visitor of the Dalai Lama’s international standing,” the Greens’ Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Keith Locke says.

“The Prime Minister has known for two years when the Dalai Lama would be in Wellington, and that he would like to meet her. We can only assume the delay in confirming the meeting is due to pressure from the Chinese government.

“We know that this month, after John Howard agreed to meet the Tibetan leader, the Chinese government spokesperson Qin Gang expressed ‘strong dissatisfaction and staunch opposition to the Australian side for allowing the Dalai Lama to engage in splittist activities.’

“We also know the Chinese authorities are making representations to political parties here not to meet the Dalai Lama. The Green Party has already been approached by a local Embassy official discouraging such a meeting.

“Our Prime Minister has got to be at least as strong as John Howard, who is proceeding to meet the Dalai Lama, despite hostility from Beijing. Our country can’t be seen to put good economic relations with China, and a free trade deal, ahead of the human rights of the Tibetan people,” Mr Locke says.

“Reports from Amnesty and other groups show that Tibetan monks are still being imprisoned for observing their religion or expressing their own opinions.

“Yesterday, in response to one of my questions in Parliament, Acting Prime Minister Michael Cullen hinted that the Prime Minister might meet the Dalai Lama as a ‘religious leader’ not a ‘political leader’ — presumably to moderate Chinese criticism.

“For the Greens, the main thing is that the Prime Minister meets the Dalai Lama, whatever the cover story. However, it is rather silly to avoid the reality that the Dalai Lama is the most authoritative Tibetan political leader, and that he embodies the aspirations of his people to determine their own future.

“One would presume that the Prime Minister would discuss with this Nobel Peace Prize winner his proposals for a peaceful Middle Way to give the Tibetan people full rights within their part of China.

“Any discussion between the two leaders could reasonably be expected to address such political matters — regardless of any fresh insights into spiritual matters that the the Prime Minister may have gained at the recent Inter-Faith dialogue,” Mr Locke says.