A Tibetan rights campaign group has challenged Prime Minister David Cameron to invite the Dalai Lama to meet him during the current visit to the UK of the Tibetan spiritual leader and bête noire for the government of China. The group, Free Tibet, has submitted a 4,000 signature petition to 10 Downing St this week, calling on Mr Cameron to stand up to pressure from China’s government to shun the Nobel Peace prize winner.
The Dalai Lama’s trip is the first visit to London since 2012, when the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg provoked China’s anger by having a private meeting with the spiritual leader. After the meeting, the Chinese government threatened “serious consequences”, saying it had “seriously interfered with China’s internal affairs, undermined China’s core interests, and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.”
In 2013, Mr Cameron announced he had “no plans” to meet the Dalai Lama again. The statement was widely perceived to be the catalyst for warmer relations between China and the UK, with subsequent visits by the Prime Minister to China and by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to the UK in 2014 . President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to the UK this October – his first since assuming power in 2012.
In July 2012, two junior ministers in the Coalition government wrote to Mr Cameron to express their frustration after being banned from meeting the Dalai Lama at a private event. Tim Loughton and Norman Baker wrote that the Foreign Office’s approach to the issue was “that British foreign policy on Tibet is whatever China wants it to be.” They added that in regard to Tibet “the Chinese government does not respond positively to any conciliatory gesture by the British government, but instead interprets this as a sign of weakness and so makes further demands for concessions.”
Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said:
“No foreign government has the right to tell our political leaders who they can and can’t meet. For China, the willingness or otherwise of political leaders to meet the Dalai Lama is a convenient measure of how low they are willing to go in bending to its will. In shunning the Dalai Lama, David Cameron is sending them a message about how weak we are and that is hardly in the UK’s interests, diplomatically or financially
“Unelected leader Xi Jinping will be greeted with all the honour and respect of a state visit next month – even though he has recently overseen a clampdown on human rights and freedom of expression in China itself that hasn’t been seen for a generation. In contrast, the Dalai Lama – a globally respected leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate – is visiting Britain to talk about compassion. What sort of message does Mr Cameron imagine he is sending to the British people, China and the world by shunning the Dalai Lama and feting Xi?”
London Mayor Boris Johnson has yet to respond to a request from Free Tibet to welcome the Dalai Lama to London, even though both the Labour Group and the Green Group on the London Assembly have extended welcomes to him. The national Green Party has confirmed to Free Tibet that it will issue a welcome to the Dalai Lama. Similar requests were sent in August to Tim Farron MP, leader of the Liberal Democrats; Angus Robertson MP leader of SNP MPs in Westminster. No replies have yet been received from them. Jeremy Corbyn has been sent the request this week, following his election as Labour Party leader.
By Alistair Currie
Edited by Justin Munce