The German government has been accused of snubbing the Dalai Lama in an effort to appease China. Contrary to its previous stance, a cabinet minister will meet the Tibetan spiritual leader during his upcoming visit.
The Dalai Lama will meet state and federal politicians but only one German cabinet member
German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul will meet with the Dalai Lama, a government spokesman announced on Wednesday, May 14. No other meetings between the exiled Tibetan and German government members have been announced.
The meeting will take place in Berlin on May 19, the last day of the Dalai Lama's five-day visit that starts on Thursday, the spokesman said.
Many Germans took to the street to show their support for Tibetan independence
The unavailability of government heads to meet with the Dalai Lama caused a row in Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition.
Merkel, who met with the Dalai Lama at the federal chancellery last September, is in Latin America. Merkel, however, has said that she is willing to meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader again in the future when her schedule allows it.
Merkel's deputy, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, turned down an official request for a meeting because he does not have time.
President Horst Koehler has also ruled out a meeting because of scheduling difficulties, prompting accusations that he was kowtowing to the Chinese.
Government spokesman Thomas Steg denied Wednesday that the government was ignoring the visit and said the delay in announcing a meeting with a cabinet member was due to ministers' tight schedules.
He said the talks between Wieczorek-Zeul and the Tibetan leader would focus on developments in Tibet and the Chinese provinces as well as the situation ahead of the Olympic Games in Bejing.
Talks seen as positive
Some exiled monks want independence from China
The recent political situation in Tibet has been tense in recent months, with China taking steps to put an end to protests led by Tibetan monks ahead of the games. After an international outcry and threats of Olympic boycotts, the Chinese agreed to hold talks with Tibetan representatives about the recent unrest.
The Dalai Lama told the German news magazine Der Spiegel that the negotiations in the Chinese city of Shenzen were being held in an atmosphere that was "not aggressive but respectful."
Appeasing the Chinese?
Merkel's previous meeting with the Dalai Lama chilled relations between Berlin and Beijing and led to a public spat with Steinmeier, who criticized it as "window-dressing" and an unnecessary provocation of China.
Chinese relations improved only after months of intense German diplomatic efforts.
The Dalai Lama's visit this week launched a similar war of words between Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partner, of which Steinmeier is a member.
Initially, only senior CDU members, among them the president of the German parliament, Norbert Lammert, and the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Juergen Ruettgers, were prepared to meet the Dalai Lama.
CDU leaders complained that no top SPD member was willing. But that has changed with the inclusion of Wieczorek-Zeul, a senior figure within the left-of-center SPD.
Human rights on the agenda
Chancellor Angela Merkel angered China by meeting the Dalai Lama
Last week, the Dalai Lama's European representative, Tseten Chhoekyapa, criticized Steinmeier for having no time to see the Tibetan leader and discuss the freedom demonstrations in Tibet.
The Tibetan spiritual leader, who enjoys huge popularity in Germany, will attend a conference and speak on human rights and religion in Bochum, Moenchengladbach, Bamberg and Nuremberg before travelling to Berlin.
In Berlin, he is also scheduled to address the foreign affairs and human rights committees of the German parliament and deliver a speech at the landmark Brandenburg Gate.