by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Dec 03, 2012
The British government blocked two ministers from meeting the Dalai Lama during a visit here this summer, prompting them to accuse London of bowing to pressure from Beijing, it emerged Monday.
Tim Loughton and Norman Baker, who both have long-standing ties to Tibet, were stopped from attending a private lunch in June with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader in the London apartment of House of Commons speaker John Bercow.
In a letter in July to Prime Minister David Cameron, revealed by Channel 4's "Dispatches" programme, the pair expressed their "concern and annoyance with regard to the inflexible instruction given last week to ministers, prohibiting any contact whatsoever with the Dalai Lama during his visit to the UK".
They said a note from the Foreign Office warning of the sensitivities surrounding Tibet and China did not justify a "blanket prohibition on a minister meeting a religious leader in private in a non-ministerial capacity, and we think this crossed a line".
"The note is tantamount to saying that British foreign policy on Tibet is whatever China wants it to be," they wrote.
"It completely ignores the fact that His Holiness is a spiritual leader only, and no longer holds a political position, and is frankly just plain wrong."
They said they were put under "tremendous pressure" not to attend the lunch from Cameron's aides and a Foreign Office minister who called at the last minute.
During an earlier visit to Britain in May to receive a prize, the Dalai Lama held private talks with Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg.
Although Britain views Tibet as part of China, the meeting sparked an official protest from Beijing, which views the 77-year-old Buddhist as a dangerous separatist.
Cameron's official spokesman on Monday denied that ministers were banned from meeting the Tibetan spiritual leader.
"Ministers are not banned from meeting the Dalai Lama," he told reporters.
"When it comes to the government's contacts with foreign dignitaries and representatives of foreign governments and so on, our approach is to coordinate across government. And I believe that this is what happened in this case."
An official government statement added that it was important to "strike a balance between taking a clear position on Tibet and sustaining broad-based engagement with the Chinese government".
While Britain regularly expressed its concerns about human rights in Tibet with Beijing, "it is only through engaging China that we can help bring about positive change to human rights in China".
"The Chinese government always lobbies hard against any meetings between foreign governments and the Dalai Lama," the statement said.
"We made clear in advance to the Chinese government that British ministers will decide who they meet and when they meet them -- irrespective of Chinese lobbying. It was never intended that any minister would meet the Dalai Lama on his second visit."
Loughton, a member of Cameron's Conservative party, lost his job as children's minister in September. Baker is a junior transport minister and a member of the Liberal Democrats, the junior coalition partners.
Both of them had previously met the Dalai Lama in the Indian town of Dharamsala.
China News from SinoDaily.com
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