The dilemma of the Dalai Lama

The dilemma of the Dalai Lama

16th May 2008, Comments 0 comments

After weeks of excuses and strong words within the government, Germany has found a politician to receive the Tibetan leader

After a lot of debate and criticism the German government has found a representative to meet the Dalai Lama.

Economic Assistance Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul will be the one to confer with the Dalai Lama in Berlin, when he arrives in the German capital on Monday on the final stage of a five-city tour.

The last-minute scheduling of the meeting followed political wrangling among the parties in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government because no member of the cabinet was prepared to see him.

Merkel is in Latin America and her deputy, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, turned down an official request for a meeting because he doesn't have time.

President Horst Koehler has also ruled out a meeting because of scheduling difficulties, prompting accusations that he was kowtowing to the Chinese.

Tight schedules

Government spokesman Thomas Steg denied Wednesday that the government was ignoring the visit and said the delay in announcing a meeting with a cabinet member was due to ministers' tight schedules.

He said the talks between Wieczorek-Zeul and the Tibetan leader would focus on developments in Tibet and the Chinese provinces as well as the situation ahead of the Olympic Games in Bejing.

Earlier, television journalist Franz Alt said it made no sense for German leaders to refuse a meeting when the Chinese themselves were holding talks with Tibetan representatives about the recent unrest.

The Dalai Lama told the German news magazine Der Spiegel that the negotiations in the Chinese city of Shenzen were being held in an atmosphere that was "not aggressive but respectful."

Merkel met the Dalai Lama at the federal chancellery last September, a move which led to a chill in relations between Berlin and Beijing that ended only in January after intense German diplomatic efforts.

The meeting led to a public spat with Steinmeier, who criticized it as "window-dressing" and an unnecessary provocation of China.

Last week, the Dalai Lama's European representative, Tseten Chhoekyapa, criticized Steinmeier for having no time to see the Tibetan leader and discuss the freedom demonstrations in Tibet.

Lecture tour

The Tibetan spiritual leader, who enjoys huge popularity in Germany, is attending conferences and speaking on human rights and religion in Bochum, Moenchengladbach, Bamberg and Nuremberg before travelling to the capital.

In Berlin, he is also scheduled to address the foreign affairs and human rights committees of the German parliament and deliver a speech at the landmark Brandenburg Gate.

The visit had led to a war of words between Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partner, of which Steinmeier is a member.

Initially, only senior CDU members, among them the president of the German parliament, Norbert Lammert, and the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Jeurgen Ruettgers, were prepared to meet him.

CDU leaders complained that no top SPD member was willing.  That stalemate has changed with the inclusion of Wieczorek-Zeul, a senior figure within the left-of-centre SPD.

No wish to attack China

Ruettgers took pains to point out that his closed-door meeting in Bochum on Thursday was not directed against China, which accuses the Dalai Lama of separatist activities because of his calls for greater autonomy for Tibet.

"We would like to make a contribution towards the improvement of relations between the people of Tibet and China," he said. "It is not a meeting directed against China."

Analysts say Steinmeier believes that regular contacts with his Chinese counterparts and informal links to the Tibetans are the best way of dealing with the Tibet issue.

But Roland Koch, CDU state premier in Hesse, told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag that Steinmeier ran the risk China would perceive "human rights is no longer a central issue for the German government."

From Germany, the Dalai Lama travels to Britain where he will meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. A government spokesman said the venue was chosen because Brown will welcome the Dalai Lama as a religious, rather than a political figure. DPA

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