Associated Press
The Dalai Lama

China Threatens Sarkozy Over Dalai Lama Meeting

December 08, 2008 10:49 AM
by Josh Katz
On Monday, a Chinese state newspaper said that French President Nicolas Sarkozy will face heavy consequences for his meeting with the Dalai Lama on Saturday.

China Lashes Out at Sarkozy for Dalai Lama Visit

A Chinese state newspaper said on Monday that French President Nicolas Sarkozy will pay a “heavy price” for his visitation with the Dalai Lama over the weekend, Reuters India reports.

Sarkozy met with the Dalai Lama on Saturday, Dec. 6, in Poland, and the French president expressed empathy over the Tibetan exile leader’s struggles for his homeland.

An editorial in the People’s Daily, which speaks for China’s Communist Party, claimed, “This malicious provocation concerns China’s core interest in national unity and inevitably will exact a heavy price.”

But the Dalai Lama “also downplayed the Chinese protest,” according to Voice of America. “He said Beijing in the past strongly criticized foreign leaders who met him, but that there was not much of a follow-up.

On Sunday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said Sarkozy had to “fully understand the damage” he caused to his country’s relations with China. Sarkozy also currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

U.S. President George W. Bush has met with the Dalai Lama in the past, as have other Western leaders. But China now appears to be taking a harder line on the issue, and the fact that Sarkozy holds the EU presidency only increases China’s exasperation. China’s main trade partner is the EU.

Following Sarkozy’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, China quickly pulled out of scheduled talks with EU leaders. On the Internet, China also called for a boycott of French-owned stores, but the boycott was largely ignored.

Background: Exiles come together for summit

On Nov. 23 the Dalai Lama suggested that it would be hasty to break off relations with China, even though the week-long meeting of Tibetan exiles recommended such a course of action.

“Wait a month” and “then we’ll see” whether Tibetans would cut off ties with China, he said.

A summit of Tibetan leaders in Dharmsala, India, which began on Nov. 17, concluded on Nov. 22. Throughout the week, 581 Tibetan exiles from around the world debated how to proceed with their relationship to China.

The Dalai Lama has long advocated that Tibetans seek a “Middle Way” when dealing with China, by not asking for lofty goals like complete independence, but by seeking increased autonomy instead to protect the distinctive Tibetan culture.

The Dalai Lama, who called for the conference of the world’s 150,000 Tibetan exiles last month, did not participate in the conference all week as he did not want his opinion to influence the outcome. “As a result, the meeting has become a dress rehearsal in democracy as the Tibetans try to formulate a plan without the guidance of ‘His Holiness,’ a man they view as closer to a god than a mere leader,” the Associated Press reported.

The frustration of many Tibetan leaders has reached its boiling point, since China has outright rejected the Dalai Lama’s request for more autonomy. Chinese officials have indicated that they would prefer to wait for the 73-year-old Dalai Lama’s death than come to an agreement with him, according to The New York Times.

The most extreme idea discussed was independence from China, mainly supported by the younger generation. “I’m looking for complete independence,” said a 32-year-old farmer. “We don’t need to stay with China.” But he went on to say: “if His Holiness goes for ‘the middle way’ approach, I will support the Dalai Lama.”

Tseten Phanucharas of Los Angeles said Tibetan exiles should not launch a campaign to break away from China. “I don’t see that we can get the support of the international community for an independent Tibet,” she said. “Without that, I don’t see how we can achieve it.”

The government-in-exile also gauged the opinions of Tibetans in Tibet prior to the meeting. According to Reuters India, the results indicated that 5,000 people sought a change to the Middle Way, 2,000 said the Middle Way should continue, and 8,000 said they favored the path advocated by the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama called for this meeting at the end of October, after he essentially conceded that his struggle with China for Tibet’s autonomy was a lost cause, and the Tibetan people should take the task upon themselves.

The spiritual leader made the surprise announcement from Dharamsala on Oct. 25. “I have been sincerely pursuing the middle way approach in dealing with China for a long time now but there hasn’t been any positive response from the Chinese side,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned I have given up,” Time magazine reported.

Reactions: China’s comments; what’s next for the Dalai Lama, and for Tibet

In an October news conference, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said that China has always been open to dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

According to Choephel, the Dalai Lama had previously considered himself “semi-retired” but now he is “almost completely retired,” The Independent wrote. The article reported that many believed the Dalai Lama would use the November meeting to “stand down.” Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 23-year-old spiritual head of the Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism, is seen as a possible political heir to the Dalai Lama.

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