China summoned Britain’s ambassador in Beijing on Tuesday to protest British Prime Minister David Cameron’s meeting with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
But London stood its ground, saying Cameron is free to meet with anyone he chooses.
In a gesture aimed at reducing diplomatic tensions, Cameron's and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg's meeting with the Dalai Lama in London on Monday did not take place at the prime minister’s official residence.
Instead, they met at St. Paul’s Cathedral, where the Tibetan leader received the U.S. $1.7 million Templeton Prize, established in 1972 and awarded for “affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”
“Both leaders expressed concern for the situation in Tibet and interest in other developments in China,” according to the Dalai Lama’s personal website.
“His Holiness advised them to stick to their principles without being deflected by short-term economic considerations,” the website said, without elaborating.
Despite the low-key talks, Beijing expressed anger at the meeting.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao summoned British ambassador in Beijing Sebastian Wood to protest the meeting, saying it "seriously interfered" with China's internal affairs. The Dalai Lama is considered a separatist by Beijing.
Free to meet
In a statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei called Monday’s meeting “ a serious interference in China’s internal affairs and an affront to the Chinese people, undermining China-UK relations.”
But London said that British leaders are free to meet with anyone they choose.
“It is for the prime minister and deputy prime minister to choose who they see,” a British government spokeswoman told AFP, adding that “The Dalai Lama is an important religious figure and advocate for peace, and the prime minister regularly meets with such figures.”
“We don’t want to see our relationship with China disrupted by the Dalai Lama’s visit,” she said.
But the spokeswoman denied that the meeting was deliberately held away from Cameron's residence to avoid angering China.
"Previous governments have generally met the Dalai Lama in a religious location," she said.
China regularly objects to top-level contacts between foreign leaders and the Tibetan spiritual leader, whom they accuse of trying to “split” Tibet away from China, whose troops marched into the Himalayan region in 1950.
But the Dalai Lama denies seeking independence for Tibet, saying that he seeks only a “greater autonomy” that will preserve Tibetan religious and cultural freedoms for his homeland as a part of the PRC.
Tibetan-populated regions of China have recently been rocked by protests, including 35 self-immolations, by Tibetans challenging Chinese policies which they say are discriminatory and have robbed them of their rights, and calling for greater freedom and for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.
The Dalai Lama has blamed Beijing's "totalitarian" and "unrealistic" policies for the wave of self-immolations, saying the time has come for the Chinese authorities to take a serious approach to resolving the Tibetan problem.
He called on the Chinese leadership to adopt a "holistic view" in resolving the Tibetan crisis instead of a "self-centered" approach backed by power and wealth to suppress the Tibetans.
Most of the cash from the Templeton Prize will be given to relieve hunger among children in India, the Dalai Lama said, with a small portion remaining donated to scientific research.
The Dalai Lama, speaking to reporters on Monday, pointed to what he called a “moral crisis” in today’s China.
“Look at China now, the moral crisis, corruption—immense,” he said.
With a recent survey identifying 200 million Chinese as practicing Buddhists, Tibetan Buddhist culture could be of “immense benefit to millions of Chinese who are really passing through a difficult period,” the Dalai Lama said.
Reported by Richard Finney.