British Prime Minister David Cameron will distance the UK from the Dalai Lama during a trip to China next week as the price for restoring full business and diplomatic relations with Beijing. The changed stance is the result of an internal London debate that was won by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
As the Free Tibet group called on Cameron to raise the issue of human rights in Tibet, Downing Street sources said Britain has “turned a page” on the Dalai Lama and Cameron has no plans to meet him in the foreseeable future.
A No. 10 Downing Street source said: “This visit is forward looking. We have turned a page on that issue. It is about the future and how we want to shift UK-China relations up a gear.”
The stark message came as Cameron prepares to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), who were installed in March, on a delayed visit to China next week.
Cameron was forced to abandon a visit to China in April after Beijing indicated that the main leadership were unlikely to be available. The move was officially explained by the need for the new leadership to bed down a month after the transfer of power, but was widely seen as a deliberate diplomatic snub. It was understood that Beijing wanted to show its displeasure after Cameron and Deputy British Prime Minister Nick Clegg met the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, at St Paul’s Cathedral in May last year.
The snub prompted intense discussion at the highest levels in London over Britain’s relations with China.
Osborne told a group of ministers at a private gathering attended by Cameron that Britain’s relationship with China was of such economic and geopolitical significance that it could not allow British sensitivities over human rights to complicate matters.
It is understood that the Foreign Office was keen for Britain to tread with care.
Osborne triumphed in the discussions and led a five-day trade mission to China last month that paved the way for Beijing to invest in Britain’s new generation of nuclear power plants. The prime minister listened carefully to the cautious Foreign Office voices, but will heed Osborne’s advice when he declines to raise the issue of the Dalai Lama and Tibet in Beijing.
Downing Street declined to say whether he would challenge the Chinese leadership on human rights in the rest of China. Asked whether human rights would be raised, a No. 10 source said: “We have a broad-ranging relationship with China where we discuss a lot of issues. Nothing is off the table. If you look at the prime minister’s visits and his bilateral meetings here, human rights is an issue we discuss.”
Douglas Alexander, the opposition Labour party spokesman on foreign affairs, said: “David Cameron may now claim to be opening a new chapter with China, but in truth this visit is an attempt to make up a lot of lost ground ... his lack of diplomatic skill has put the UK-China relationship in the deep freeze for the last three years.”