Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dalai Lama visit to US angers China

Sino-US relations look set to turn sour following the awarding of a Congressional Gold medal to the Dalai Lama. Beijing has reacted angrily to the visit by the Dalai Lama who has twice visited the United States in the last 6 years. A Chinese government spokesman urged the US to “cancel the visit”, but the White House has responded saying, “We would hope that the Chinese leader would get to know the Dalai Lama as the president sees him - as a spiritual leader and someone who wants peace".
“We don’t want China to feel we are poking a stick in her eye,” White House spokewoman Dana Perino added. But Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi warned the meeting could have "an extremely serious impact" on bilateral relations. "We express our extreme dissatisfaction and strong opposition. We solemnly demand that the US side cancel the extremely wrong arrangement," Yang told reporters. He was speaking as China held its 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
The current Dalai Lama, said to be the 14th reincarnation of AvalokiteĊ›vara, was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1989, something the Chinese government has also criticized. The Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since 1959 and remains the spiritual leader of millions of Buddhists around the world.

China has already reacted to the visit by cancelling a meeting connected with Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme. But if China over-reacts to the Dalai Lama’s visit, the West may boycott the Olympic Games. Already several senators and Presidential candidates have called for a boycott of the games following China’s lack of action over the crushed pro-democracy protests in Myanmar last month. 1997 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Jody Williams, told the New York Sun, “Now most definitely is the time to test if the Olympic slogan ‘One World, One Dream' applies to the people of Burma. Or those of Darfur. Or those of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Or those of Tibet. Or, in fact, if it applies to the peoples of China itself.”

Whilst no government has yet called for a boycott, several groups have independently aired their grievances. The group Students for a Free Tibet, Hollywood actor Richard Gere, Chairman of International Campaign for Tibet, and Reporters Sans Frontiers all support a boycott of the 2008 Olympics. Archbishop Emeritus Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, said that if China did not take a stance against the military rulers in Myanmar he would "join a campaign to boycott the Beijing Olympics".

At a press conference today, President Bush said he was attending the award ceremony because he admired the Dalai Lama and supported religious freedom. He added that he liked attending gold medal ceremonies. “I told President Hu that I was going to the ceremony. And I said I'm going because I want to honour this man. I have consistently told Chinese that religious freedom is in their nation's interest. I have also told them that it's in their interests to meet with the Dalai Lama and I'll say so today at the ceremony in congress. If they were to sit down with the Dalai Lama, they would find him to be a man of peace and reconciliation. My visit is not new to the Chinese Leadership, but they don’t like it of course, but I don't think it's going to severely damage relations” Mr Bush said.

[BBC / CNN / China Daily]

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