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Merkel Meets Dalai Lama Despite Chinese Criticism

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the Dalai Lama on Sunday, Sept. 23. The historic encounter -- the first of its kind -- drew fierce criticism from Chinese officials.

The Dalai Lama

Merkel's aides had advised her not to receive the Dalai Lama

According to German news agency DPA, Chinese officials -- unlike in the past -- are not censoring insulting Internet postings directed against Merkel that refer to the chancellor as a "witch" and say that she's "playing with fire."

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of promoting independence for Tibet, which Chinese soldiers occupied in 1950. The Dalai Lama has led a Tibetan government-in-exile in India since 1959. He says that he does not seek independence, but autonomy for his homeland.

Chinese officials, who had called on Germany not to allow the Dalai Lama to enter the country, also cancelled a high-level meeting with German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries on patent right protection that was meant to take place Sunday in Munich. "Technical reasons" were the official explanation for the cancellation, according to a justice ministry spokesperson.

Merkel with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing in August

Merkel with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing in August

Merkel had been under pressure for days to cancel the meeting that government officials describe as a "private exchange of ideas." Foreign ministry officials reportedly urged Merkel to cancel the visit to avoid any damage to Sino-German relations.

But government spokesman Thomas Steg said that it should be seen as part of a series of meetings between the chancellor and global religious leaders.

"The meeting will take place, the invitation stands, and the chancellor also extended the invitation very consciously," he said on Friday, adding that the government was convinced that the encounter "will not disturb the good state of German-Chinese relations and cooperation."

Support for chancellor across political spectrum

Hesse Premier Roland Koch, a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and a long-time supporter of the Dalai Lama, said Sunday that he was glad that Merkel did not give in to Chinese pressure.

"We Germans can be happy and proud that human rights issues mean so much to Angela Merkel and that she talks straight and acts accordingly," Koch, who accompanied the Dalai Lama to the chancellery, told Bild am Sonntag tabloid.

Claudia Roth, the leader of the opposition Greens party, also backed Merkel, saying that the chancellor acted responsibly by meeting with the Dalai Lama. In an interview with German public radio Deutschlandfunk, Roth, the human rights commissioner under the previous Red-Green coalition government, said that human rights in Tibet were in Germany's interest.

Dalai Lama: China displays "arrogance of power"

Merkel with a white scarf that she received from the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama presented Merkel with his signature gift -- a white scarf

In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung published Saturday, the Dalai Lama said that he didn't think the meeting would have a lasting negative effect on relations between the two countries.

"It is simply China's attitude," he said. "It is the arrogance of power. Beijing is meddling in the domestic affairs of Germany and demanding that the German chancellor should not see me…Wherever I go, China protests. The Chinese are simply testing how far they can go."

Merkel and the Dalai Lama posed for photographs following their meeting at the chancellery, but did not make any statements to the press. As he was leaving the chancellery, the Dalai Lama said that Merkel had "kept old friendships, so [I'm] very happy," according to news reports.

Merkel sets precedent

The Dalai Lama with George W. Bush in Washington

US President George W. Bush has met the Tibetan spiritual leader on several occasions

It was the first time the Dalai Lama visited the German chancellery as none of Merkel's predecessors received him.

The Tibetan leader, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, has met with other high-ranking German officials in the past, including former President Richard von Weizsäcker and former foreign ministers Joschka Fischer and Klaus Kinkel.

The latter's refusal to accept a white scarf -- the Dalai Lama's signature gift as a sign of peace -- made headlines at the time.

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