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Dalai Lama dodges controversy over Sarkozy meeting PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 14 August 2008

PARIS, Wed Aug 13, ( - The Dalai Lama sought on Wednesday to defuse criticism of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been accused at home of caving into Chinese pressure by declining to meet the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

Starting a two-week visit to France mostly focused on religious commitments, the Buddhist leader said Western leaders were right to nurture warm relations with Beijing.

Asked at a press conference later whether he thought Paris was snubbing him for fear of harming ties with Beijing, he said: "They should not isolate China. They must bring China into the world community and create genuine friendship."

He added that, within a friendly and constructive dialogue with China, Western leaders should be firm on issues of human rights and religious, political and press freedoms.

Sarkozy had been under pressure for months from pro-Tibet campaigners, including legislators in his own camp, to announce he would meet the Dalai Lama, but it was not until a few days before the visit he finally said he would not see him.

The Chinese ambassador to France had warned Sarkozy in July that there would be "serious consequences" if he met the Tibetan leader. Sarkozy then responded sharply, saying: "It is not for China to determine my schedule of meetings."

His decision not to see the Dalai Lama was widely denounced as a climbdown, including by some allies. Lionnel Luca, a pro-Tibet legislator from the ruling UMP party, said Sarkozy had "caved in" to the threat from the Chinese ambassador.

Asked if he hoped for a future meeting with Sarkozy, the Dalai Lama said: "If he wants to see me I will be happy, if not, no problem."

The issue of relations with Beijing, and how to respond to China's crackdown on Tibetan riots in March, has dogged Sarkozy, who came to power last year promising to put human rights at the heart of his foreign policy.

He said he would only attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics if China engaged in dialogue with the Dalai Lama and waited for months before confirming he would go. The issue was particularly sensitive as France now holds the rotating European Union presidency.

Sarkozy's stance annoyed China and did little to mend bilateral relations that had been damaged by the jostling of a wheelchair-bound Chinese athlete by pro-Tibet protesters during the passage of the Olympic flame through Paris in April.

But his presence at the ceremony, representing not just France but the EU, prompted many critics to say he was pandering to Beijing and putting commercial interest ahead of his stated commitment to human rights.

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