The University of Sydney, one of Australia's top institutions of higher learning, has canceled a scheduled talk by Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, apparently due to pressure from China, triggering a global petition drive by a Tibetan students group to get the university to reverse the decision.
The university's Institute for Democracy and Human Rights had organized the on-campus talk by the Dalai Lama during his visit in June but decided recently to move the event off campus.
The move came after the university warned the organizer against using its logo or allowing media coverage or entry to the event by Free Tibet activists, according to reports.
"The university 'withdrew its support,' I think are the words that are used," Stuart Rees, emeritus professor at the University of Sydney, told Australia's national public broadcaster ABC News.
"Now whether they withdrew their support because they didn't think he was an appropriate person to have intellectually or politically or whether they withdrew their support because of outside pressures, I'm not sure," he said.
ABC said it had obtained emails from the head of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights to the university's vice chancellor, Michael Spence, confirming the decision "to withdraw our support for hosting His Holiness the Dalai Lama's planned speech at the university on June 18th."
"It will be moved to an off-campus location and no member of staff or associate of the IDHR will formally be involved in organizing that event."
The vice chancellor's reply exuded a sense of relief, according to ABC, saying the university has close ties with China.
Sydney University said in a statement it had never received an official request for the Dalai Lama to speak on campus.
The Australian newspaper quoted New South Wales Greens MP John Kaye as saying that the Dalai Lama had agreed to speak at the prestigious university during his June visit to Sydney.
But the university canceled the event “to protect its financial ties with the Chinese government,” Kaye said.
One report said the university canceled the visit to avoid damaging China ties, including funding for its cultural Confucius Institute.
"The only explanation for this shocking decision is that the University has caved in to pressure from China," Students for a Free Tibet, an advocacy group, said Friday as it launched a worldwide petition drive calling on the university and the Institute of Democracy and Human Rights "to immediately rectify their mistake."
The Dalai Lama, a Nobel laureate, gives numerous public speeches and university lectures every year.
"It's common knowledge that the Chinese government routinely tries to coerce these institutions into canceling the event and blocking the Dalai Lama," Tendor, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet, said in a statement.
"While most refuse to kowtow to China's pressure in order to maintain their commitment to academic freedom, the University of Sydney appears to have caved in," he said.
"A university without academic freedom is not a university at all. In stopping this talk, Sydney University has put the interest of the Chinese government over that of its students and stakeholders.”
China calls the Dalai Lama a dangerous separatist, or "splittist," and frowns on overseas travel by the spiritual leader, who fled Tibet to India after a failed national revolt against Chinese occupation in 1959.
The Dalai Lama, who is currently on a visit to Northern Ireland, said Friday that peace and reconciliation remain critical for a resolution to the Tibetan issue.
To a suggestion at a forum that people can become tired of working for peace and reconciliation, the Dalai Lama said "this kind of work is not a matter of choice, but something we have to do," according to a report on his personal website.
"As he frequently tells Tibetans, in the long run the people we are in conflict with are the people we have to live with side by side, so we have to find a peaceful solution," the report said.
"In such situations, resorting to violence is like suicide. Taking a more realistic and holistic view can give us a more positive perspective, whereas getting caught up in the destructive emotions of anger, hatred and fear create unhappiness and bring nothing positive."