Mon, Sep 24, 2007 - Page 1 News List

China protests as Germany's Merkel meets Dalai Lama

AFP, BERLIN

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was set to hold a historic meeting with the Dalai Lama yesterday despite strong protests from China, which has canceled talks with German officials.

The German justice ministry said Chinese officials have called off a meeting with German counterparts on patent right protection that was scheduled to take place in Munich yesterday for "technical reasons."

The meeting would have been addressed by Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries and taken place just hours before Merkel is due to become the first German chancellor to receive Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

The Chinese foreign ministry also called in Germany's ambassador to Beijing and warned Germany not to receive the venerated Buddhist authority, whom it denounced as a separatist activist who wants to undermine China.

But Berlin has resisted the pressure to withdraw Merkel's invitation.

"The meeting will take place, the invitation stands and the chancellor also extended the invitation very consciously," deputy government spokesman Thomas Steg said on Friday.

He said the government was convinced that the meeting would "not disturb the good state of German-Chinese relations and cooperation" just weeks after Merkel visited China.

In an interview with the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the Dalai Lama said he was not angry at China's stance but found it arrogant.

"It is simply China's attitude. It is the arrogance of power. Beijing is meddling in the domestic affairs of Germany and demanding that the chancellor should not see me," he said. "Wherever I go, China protests. The Chinese are simply testing how far they can go. Therefore I do not believe that my meeting with Mrs Merkel will have a lastingly negative impact on Chinese-German relations."

He said he was "happy" about the invitation and impressed with Merkel, whom he has met before, but while she was still an opposition politician.

"What I appreciate about Mrs Merkel is her steady engagement on human rights and religious freedom, as well as her commitment to the environment. Perhaps that is why she wants to see me, in spite of all the pressure from China," he said.

The Dalai Lama has led a Tibetan government-in-exile in India since 1959.

He said he believed that China's policy towards the Himalayan region it occupied in 1950 would have to change.

"At the moment, the Chinese government appears to be in a dilemma about Tibet. The more sensitive among the country's political leaders realize that their image in the outside world depends strongly on how they treat Tibet," he said.

The Dalai Lama said he believed that he felt a special affinity with Merkel, as he had with the late pope John Paul II, because both had lived under a communist regime.

Merkel is the first German chancellor to have grown up in communist East Germany.

The Dalai Lama was received by Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer last week, also amid protest from China.

He has held talks with several other political leaders including US President George W. Bush, with whom he has met on three occasions.

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