The Dalai Lama makes his second trip to Germany in two months to visit one of his biggest fans, the conservative governor of Hesse. Both Roland Koch and rights activists hope Gerhard Schröder is watching.
The two have been friends for 20 years
In maintaining his friendship with the Dalai Lama, Roland Koch lets few things get in the way - including diplomatic protocol.
On a recent trip to India, for example, the premier of the southern state of Hesse snubbed his hosts by insisting on a trip to Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan government have been living in exile since 1959. The seminal trip for any German dignitary did not come on well with the Chinese government and the Chinese ambassador to Berlin immediately filed a letter of protest to the German government.
"The Tibetan people need friends"
The move hasn't seemed to bother Koch (photo), who welcomes the 1989 Nobel Prize winner to Frankfurt for three days beginning Tuesday. The official occasion is the Peace Prize Koch will present Tibet's spiritual and political leader on Wednesday as an accolade for his peaceful campaign to maintain his country's autonomy from China.
"I think the Tibetan people need friends, because the peaceful way to change a world that is marked by political interests and power games is especially difficult," he said. "And it is impossible to walk it alone with out friends."
German government vague on Dalai Lama
The coalition government of Gerhard Schröder has been a good deal more dubious in its treatment of the Tibetan leader. It's not hard to understand why. Praising the Tibetan leader is akin to insulting the Chinese, and Schröder - at least recently - has been loath to do that.
The Chinese government has isolated the Dalai Lama, who turned 70 on July 7, ever since it annexed Tibet by military force in 1951. In 1993, diplomatic ties between he and the Chinese government dissolved and Beijing unhappy every time he makes appearances abroad.
Schröder's government has welcomed the recent high-level talks between Beijing and Tibetan representatives, but it seems more focused on praising the progress made by China.
Spurred on, say analysts, by the promise of the massive market the middle Kingdom has to offer, Schröder and his government has come out with statements applauding what it says is China's progress on human rights. The chancellor also argued for a lifting of the European Union weapons embargo on China - in place since the brutal crackdown on demonstrators in Tianamen Square in 1989 -- in a speech before the Bundestag in April.
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Chinese officials at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Mercedes factory in China in December 2004.
German companies have benefited. On a recent visit, Chinese companies ordered 23 passenger aircraft and 180 locomotives from German firms.
Human rights groups have sharply denounced the chancellor's unwillingness to address the country's brutal death penalty, repeated human rights infractions, and policy towards Tibet.
Following Koch's lead
One could hope that "other politicians follow (Koch's example)," said Dirk Pleiter, the head of Amnesty International in Germany. "The approach by the German government, like most of the other European governments' approach towards the human rights situation in Tibet, is still too soft."
Koch says that Germany should model itself more on the United States in dealing with China. Angela Merkel, a Christian Democratic Union colleague of Koch and the party's chancellor candidate has already hinted relations with Beijing won't be as cozy should she, as expected, become chancellor this Fall.
A Tibetan monk prays behind the Tibetan flag during a ceremony at in Dharamsala in March to commemorate the 46th anniversary of National Tibetan uprising against China.
"We can see from the U.S. example that one can, on the basis of a close relationship with China, clearly formulate the principles of human rights as well as cultural and religious autonomy," he said. "And I believe a national government here in Germany should do no more and no less than to promote just that."