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Controversial Meeting

DW staff (win)
May 19, 2008

Ignoring criticism from China and from members of her own party, Germany's development minister met with the Dalai Lama at a Berlin hotel on Monday, May 19. She called the talk "very good" and "fruitful."

The Dalai Lama and Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul shake hands
The Tibetan leader with Germany's development minister in BerlinImage: AP

German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul said that she and the Dalai Lama had discussed Tibet and its ties with China during the meeting in Berlin that lasted about an hour.

"I stressed how important peaceful dialogue with China can be," she told reporters, reiterating Berlin's demands for direct talks between the Tibetan representatives and Beijing.

"The position of the federal government on this issue is very clear and I have stated it again here," she said.

Wieczorek-Zeul said that she and the Tibetan leader had also discussed human rights and the struggle to eradicate poverty. While she received a white scarf -- the Dalai Lama's traditional gift -- Wieczorek-Zeul presented the visitor with the UN's millennium goals, "which form the basis of our actions."

The minister added that she thought that it was very important that the Dalai Lama had expressed his empathy and condolences for the Chinese earthquake victims.

"I also said that we are suffering, that we feel with the victims and their families and that we're mourning for them," she said.

It was the highest-level political meeting yet of the Dalai Lama's latest tour of Western nations, which is likely to keep the spotlight on Tibet after deadly anti-Chinese unrest rocked the regional capital Lhasa in March.

Chinese protest

Crowds try to grab the Dalai Lama's hand as he is walking past them
Germans have been welcoming the Dalai LamaImage: AP

The Chinese embassy has objected to the exiled leader's talks with Wieczorek-Zeul and accused him of "playing politics" in the run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games in August.

"We object to a member of the German government receiving the Dalai Lama and to Germany allowing him to carry out this visit," Junhui Zhang from the Chinese embassy in Berlin told the press last week.

The 1989 Nobel peace prize laureate began his five-nation tour in Frankfurt last week with an attack on China's military crackdown on Tibetan protestors, accusing Beijing of "suppression."

He was met Monday in Berlin by flag-waving supporters. A speech at the Brandenburg Gate later in the day was expected to draw Chinese protestors.

Another diplomatic rift?

Angela Merkel and the Dalai Lama
Merkel met the Dalai Lama in her office last SeptemberImage: AP

The visit comes eight months after a historic meeting between the Dalai Lama and conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel caused a deep diplomatic rift between Beijing and Berlin that has only recently begun to heal.

Merkel will not meet the Dalai Lama during this visit because she is in Latin America, but her outspoken support for his quest for cultural autonomy for Tibet and designation of a minister to receive him has caused strife in her fraught ruling coalition.

On Monday, her spokesman said that Merkel "expressly welcomed" talks between the government in Beijing and Tibetan leaders.

"We do not believe that today's meeting will have a negative impact on the dialogue forming between China and the Dalai Lama's representatives on developments in Tibet and perhaps also in neighboring countries," he said.

Angry colleagues

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who disapproved of the reception given to the Dalai Lama last year, has declined to meet him.

Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, is reported to be furious that fellow party member Wieczorek-Zeul failed to inform colleagues of her plans.

The minister referred to the row on Monday, telling reporters that she had discussed the SPD's concerns with party leader Kurt Beck. Her aides rejected suggestions that she was meeting the Dalai Lama, 72, in a private capacity, saying it was part of her world economic-development job to meet important international figures.

After Germany, the Dalai Lama is to head to Britain, Australia, the United States and France in a three-month tour ending in mid-August, just before the Beijing Games come to an end.

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