Why the Dalai Lama is no longer welcome in Mongolia

The Tibetan leader will not be welcomed again, announced the Mongolian government after China protested his most recent visit. 

B. Rentsendorj/Reuters/File
Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is assisted after addressing those gathered at Buyant Ukhaa sport palace in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on Nov. 20, 2016.

The Dalai Lama will not be invited to Mongolia again, the country’s foreign minister has announced, after a recent visit drew criticism from China.

Though revered in Buddhist Mongolia, the Dalai Lama is considered a separatist agitator by Chinese officials. The official decision follows economic pressure from China, which began last month after Mongolia welcomed a visit from the spiritual leader.

“Under this current government, the Dalai Lama will not be invited to Mongolia, even for religious reasons,” Foreign Minister Tsend Munkh-Orgil told the Mongolian newspaper Unuudur on Tuesday.

After last month’s trip, China postponed diplomatic meetings with Mongolian officials and imposed new commodity shipping fees. Mongolia’s economy, which is currently in recession, is dependent on China, and the countries had been negotiating a possible $4.2 billion loan. Those negotiations were put on hold after the Dalai Lama's visit. 

It’s hardly the first time China has used its economic influence to bring smaller countries in line with its views, such as the “One-China policy” discouraging official recognition of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

The African island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe ended its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan this week, and will reportedly seek to restore diplomatic ties with China. Taiwanese Foreign Minister David Lee said São Tomé demanded “an astronomical amount of financial help” in exchange for continuing to formally recognize the nation, officially known as the Republic of China, which now has just 21 diplomatic allies.

São Tomé has relied heavily on foreign governments in the past. In 2013, for example, 90 percent of the country’s national budget consisted of international aid,  Foreign Affairs reported. However, officials did not confirm whether China has made a financial commitment to the former Portuguese colony.

The Dalai Lama, who has sought more autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule, has been branded a separatist by the Chinese government. As such, the country has frequently admonished countries and public figures for supporting or meeting the religious figure.

Tibetan tradition holds that the Dalai Lama is reincarnated, but the current leader has begun to suggest that he may be the last in his line, drawing sharp criticism from the Chinese government. 

"If a weak Dalai Lama comes along, it will just disgrace the Dalai Lama," the religious leader told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, saying that his post might end after his death. He has made other deviations from tradition in the past, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in 2014, including saying that Tibetans might vote for his successor, or that he himself might name one. He has also said that he would not choose to reincarnate if Tibet is not free. 

"The Dalai Lama is trying to avoid a situation where China controls his successor," Elliot Sperling, an expert on Tibetan affairs at the University of Indiana in Bloomington, told the Monitor in 2014. "They think they could use someone under their control … to manipulate the Tibetans."

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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