Criticism is mounting in Germany over what appears to be the reluctance of high-ranking German officials to meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader when he pays a four-day visit to Germany at the end of this week.
Merkel's meeting with the Dalai Lama angered Beijing last year
German Chancellor Merkel will be away in South America and her deputy, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, turned down an official request for a meeting because he doesn't have time, sparking criticism from the spiritual leader's representatives as well as Merkel's conservatives.
German President Horst Koehler has also ruled out a meeting because of scheduling difficulties, his spokesman, Martin Kothe told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Television journalist Franz Alt dismissed the reason as a poor excuse.
"The president is kneeling for the Chinese," Alt said. "That is cowardice."
He said it made no sense for German leaders to refuse a meeting when the Chinese themselves were holding such meetings.
The Dalai Lama told a German newspaper that the negotiations between his representatives and Chinese authorities were being held in an atmosphere that was "not aggressive but respectful," but also that the West had to keep pressuring China to produce results at the negotiating table.
Human rights at stake
Merkel and Steinmeier don't seem to see eye to eye on German-Chinese relations
"Foreign Minister Steinmeier risks creating the impression in China that human rights is not a central issue for the German government," Roland Koch, Christian Democrat (CDU) premier of Hesse and a Merkel ally, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
"At a time when talks have begun between the Chinese and the exiled Tibetan leadership, this would be fatal."
China blames the Dalai Lama for the unrest, which has led to anti-China protests and calls for a boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games in August.
"I would have expected more courage from Steinmeier," Erwin Huber, head of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) said.
Another influential conservative, Lower Saxony premier Christian Wulff, said it was Steinmeier's duty to get a first-hand report on the talks with China from the Dalai Lama, whose envoy described the discussions as a "good first step."
The China factor
Is the German president caving in to the pressure from Beijing?
Steinmeier, a Social Democrat (SPD) sharply criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to meet Tibet's spiritual leader last September in Berlin as an unnecessary provocation of China. The meeting angered Beijing and put relations between the countries on hold for months.
Analysts say Steinmeier believes that regular contacts with his Chinese counterparts and informal links to the Tibetans are the best way of dealing with the Tibet issue.
But Koch told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag that Steinmeier ran the risk that China would perceive "human rights is no longer as important an issue for the German government as it was when the chancellor received" the Dalai Lama.
SPD foreign policy expert Rolf Muetzenich accused the CDU of misusing Germany's Tibet policy to score political points at the expense of the foreign minister.