The Dalai Lama was due to arrive in Germany yesterday at the start of a tour of Western powers, two months after China’s crackdown on violence in Lhasa sparked international condemnation.
The visit will keep the issue of Tibet center-stage until the Olympic Games start in Beijing in August. After Germany the Tibetan spiritual leader will also visit the US, Australia, Britain and France.
The Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamsala in India, where the Dalai Lama fled in 1959, says 203 Tibetans were killed and 1,000 injured in Beijing’s crackdown following anti-Chinese riots in March in Tibet.
Beijing says Tibetan “rioters” and “insurgents” killed 21 people and accuses the Dalai Lama of being behind the violence and of fomenting trouble ahead of the Olympics — an allegation rejected by the Buddhist cleric.
This month representatives of the Dalai Lama held talks with China to try to defuse tensions.
In Germany, the Nobel peace laureate’s schedule has raised eyebrows as he will be meeting neither German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in Latin America, nor Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
When the Dalai Lama last came to Germany in September last year, a meeting with Merkel at the chancellery caused a deep chill in relations betweeen Berlin and Beijing which only recently began to thaw.
A government spokesman denied that his schedule this time meant that Berlin was giving in to diplomatic pressure from China — a key market for German firms like Volkswagen, Siemens and Bayer.
The Dalai Lama’s representative in Europe, Tseten Chhoekyap, branded Steinmeier’s decision not to meet the Dalai Lama “an unhappy one,” but his spokesman Tenzin Takla later downplayed the statement.
“His Holiness does not wish to create any inconvenience for anyone or any country,” Takla said in Dharamsala.
In place of Merkel or Steinmeier, Berlin has designated Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul to meet the Dalai Lama on behalf of the government on Monday.
He was also due to hold talks with the speaker of parliament Norbert Lammert and the state premiers of Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia, Roland Koch and Juergen Ruettgers, and to address the foreign affairs committee of parliament.
The chairman of the committee, Ruprecht Polenz, told the Muenstersche Zeitung regional daily yesterday that the Chinese embassy in Berlin had urged it to cancel the meeting, but that the committee had declined. While in Germany the Dalai Lama will also give talks on human rights, religion and globalization in Bochum, Moenchengladbach and Nuremberg.
The second leg of the five-nation trip will take the 72-year-old to Britain for nine days, where he will hold talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Brown drew fire on Wednesday after it emerged that he would not meet the Tibetan spiritual leader on May 23 in his Downing Street office, as his predecessors Tony Blair and John Major had done.
The head of an all-party committee said the decision to meet at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s residence, appeared to be designed to allay Chinese anger at the talks by presenting them as not entirely formal.
“It is deeply disappointing to us that the prime minister appears to be willing to kowtow to the Chinese leadership,” Norman Baker said.
But Brown said the location of the talks was not as important as the substance.