14th Aug 2020

Dalai Lama urges EU to get involved in Tibet dispute

  • "If you are a true friend you will make clear your friend's faults," the Dalai Lama told MEPs (Photo: European Parliament)

The Dalai Lama, the Buddhist icon and Tibetan exile, told MEPs in Brussels on Thursday (4 December) that Tibet was poorer before Chinese rule and that the 6 million Tibetans welcomed the modernisation of their society.

"Ours is not a separatist movement. It is in our own interest to remain in a big nation like China," he said. "We are not 'splittists'," the 73 year-old monk said in the European Parliament's plenary hall.

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The Dalai Lama, or Mr Tenzin Gyatso, is on a European tour to seek support for his vision of a more autonomous Tibet. While angering Beijing, he attracted large crowds in Brussels, with people queuing outside the parliament's entrance, in corridors and press areas to get a glimps of the Nobel peace prize laureate. MEPs greeted him with loud applause, some displaying the Tibetan flag.

In his speech, the Dalai Lama said the EU must develop a close dialogue with Chinese leaders to "help" them recognise the error of their ways, quoting a Tibetan saying: "If you are a true friend you will make clear your friend's faults."

The religious leader, referred to by his hosts in Brussels as "His Holiness," said the bloc must stand firm on the issue of human rights in all its dealings with Beijing.

Meeting with Brussels journalists later, he said China deserves to be a superpower, but lacks the moral authority for the role, partly because of its occupation of Tibet.

"Because of its very poor record on human rights and religious freedom and freedom of expression and freedom of the press - too much censorship - the image of China in the field of moral authority is very, very poor," he said.

The same day the Chinese government through its own news agency, Xinhua, issued a strong rebuke to the Dalai Lama's demands for the Himalayan region, saying the exile leader ignores the religious and political freedoms that China already affords Tibetans.

Accepting his demands would risk dangerous ethnic splits, one editorial read.

"By waving the banner of implementing ethnic regional autonomy in China, insisting on political demands for a 'greater Tibet' and 'high-level autonomy,' the Dalai Lama is totally violating the fundamental interests of the Tibetan people," it said.

Sarkozy faces boycott threat

The Buddhist monk was invited to Brussels as part of the "European Year of Intercultural Dialogue," a programme aiming at creating closer links between European cultures, languages, ethnic groups and religions.

But his visit took place against the backdrop of a widening rift between China and the EU.

Last week, China called off the 11th EU-China summit in protest at French President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to meet the Dalai Lama while in Poland on Saturday, warning that it might have consequences for trade relations with France.

Tens of thousands of Chinese people have already called for boycotts of French products and of the French supermarket Carrefour. A recent online petition for anti-French boycotts has gathered close to 1 million readers and some 90,000 comments from nationalist camps.

A spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said on Thursday that trade links with France "rested on the basis of mutual benefit" and added that he hoped France would not do anything to "harm the interests of people from the two countries."

The French president has already cancelled two previous meetings with the Dalai Lama due to opposition from China.

Big bluff?

But few experts believe that China would jeopardise lucrative trade deals with France or the EU as a whole over Saturday's meeting. China has a trade surplus with France, and antagonising business partners during a global financial crisis could be risky.

EU-China relations usually revolve around trade, with the EU buying €231 billion worth of goods from China last year and exporting €72 billion in return.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said that Mr Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama had caused "a lot of dissatisfaction" among Chinese people, but also called on the public to be "calm and rational."

The online anti-French action had by Thursday been closed down.

Meanwhile in Brussels, the Dalai Lama turned to humour to brush off China's fury over his meeting with Mr Sarkozy, saying - with a characteristic chuckle - that he looks forward to meeting Sarkozy's "attractive wife," ex-model Carla Bruni.


Why the China summit didn't happen and why it matters

The most curious of all recent summits was the one that did not happen, clearly demonstrating that EU-China relations are far from being as weatherproof as the title "strategic partnership" might suggest, write Bjorn Conrad and Stephan Mergenthaler of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin.

EU-China relations continue to fray

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