Dalai Lama meets a top German official – but only one

European leaders are struggling to balance growing trade ties with China and deep public sympathy for Tibetans and their exiled leader, wrapping up his first stop on a global tour.

Michael Dalder/Reuters
Reverence: A survey last year revealed that Germans hold the Dalai Lama inhigher regard than the German-born pope. [: .]

The Dalai Lama hasn't even finished the first leg of his global tour promoting Tibet's cause in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, but emotions are already running high.

In Germany, where he wraps up a five-day visit Monday, there has been widespread public outrage that top politicians have declined to meet the exiled Tibetan leader. Meanwhile China is fuming over the one cabinet-level meeting he has landed, with Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul.

"We object to a member of the German government receiving the Dalai Lama and to Germany allowing him to carry out this visit," Junhui Zhang, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Berlin said Friday, adding that the meeting violates Germany's "one-China" policy and threatens the "stable development of bilateral relations."

The row in Germany is a sign of the delicate balancing act facing European nations as they struggle to reconcile their growing trade ties to China with concern over the nation's human rights record and deep public sympathy for Tibetans and their leader – more popular here than the German-born pope.

Last fall, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has made human rights a hallmark of her foreign policy, personally received the Dalai Lama. But the meeting put a chill on German-Chinese relations.

This time he has gotten a cooler welcome. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and President Horst Köhler both declined to meet the Nobel Peace Laureate, citing scheduling conflicts, as have other members of the German cabinet. Critics charge that Berlin is succumbing to pressure from the Chinese.

"Steinmeier risks creating the impression in China that human rights is not a central issue for the German government," said Roland Koch, governor of the south German state of Hesse, last week. "At a time when talks have begun between the Chinese and the exiled Tibetan leadership, this would be fatal."

Tibet is also dismayed. "We are very disappointed [at Steinmeier's refusal to meet], given the current situation in Tibet," Tseten Chhoekyapa, the Tibetan leader's official European representative, told the Monitor.

Following the public outcry, Ms. Wieczorek-Zeul agreed to meet the Dalai Lama. But that has sparked fresh strife – within the German government. The foreign ministry said the visit would undermine its support for direct talks between China and Tibetan leaders.

From Germany, the Dalai Lama will travel to Britain, Australia, the US, and France, where he will end his tour on August 20 – just four days before the Olympics end.

China has explicitly warned European nations not to support the Dalai Lama and his efforts to rally backing for Tibet, leaving European leaders in a delicate position.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently announced that he plans to receive the Dalai Lama on May 23 at the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury — underscoring that the visit is spiritual in nature, not political. And last month the European Union rejected a French proposal to invite the Dalai Lama to meet with the bloc's foreign ministers.

These developments reflect the complexity of China's relationship with the EU. The 27-nation bloc has worked hard to build ties with the Asian nation, its fastest-growing trading partner. But there's also growing European frustration with China's economic policies, which have helped create a sizable EU trade deficit, and disappointment at the pace of China's internal reforms.

Nowhere is the gap wider than over Tibet. The EU has threatened to boycott the Olympics opening ceremony to punish China for cracking down on the protests in Tibet this spring. Meanwhile, Chinese are boycotting European businesses, especially the French supermarket Carrefour, in a backlash against pro-Tibet demonstrations that marred the Olympic torch relay in Paris.

But on his German tour, the Dalai Lama has rarely mentioned these skirmishes. Instead, he's sounded a conciliatory note, saying he is saddened by the toll of the earthquake in China. He has also called for a harmonious solutions to the Tibet-China standoff. "Genuine harmony must come on the basis of trust, trust very much based on equality. So far these are lacking."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.