Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tell it like it is (re: Dalai Lama in Australia)

You can always count on Communist China to spread rumours that the Dalai Lama is political and evil.

Courier Mail, Australia -
Ian McPhedran; June 15, 2007 12:00am

CHINA'S gross over-reaction to the decision by Prime Minister John Howard and other senior politicians to meet the Dalai Lama smacks of hypocrisy.
The communist regime in Beijing explodes every time a country ventures even mild criticism about China's appalling human rights record, screaming "interference" in its domestic affairs.

Now the boot is on the other foot and Australia should protest loudly about China's attempts to bully us over the visit by the 71-year-old Dalai Lama of Tibet.

He is here on a low-key 11-day visit seemingly to preach tolerance and happiness, which stands in stark contrast to Beijing's politics of hatred and its brutal treatment of many Tibetans.

The fact Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd have chosen to meet him is none of China's business.

Tibet's spiritual leader visited Australia Zoo on Wednesday to urge people to look after animals.

"Taking care of animals is essential to developing more happiness in human beings," he said.

Hardly a radical anti-Chinese propaganda message.

At the National Press Club on Monday he urged Australia to be a "true friend" to China by standing up to it on thorny subjects such as human rights, democracy, press freedoms and the rule of law. "Remain firm, tell them, not negatively, but friendly," he said.

Not exactly a rabid anti-communist rave.

Australia treads a delicate line when dealing with China. On the one hand we are pleased to trade with the emerging economic giant and on the other we cannot ignore human rights in the race for profits.

We studiously observe a "one China" policy and we do not lecture Beijing about the treatment of Tibet or its brutal suppression of religious minorities such as Falun Gong.

Rather, the Howard Government has chosen a "softly softly" approach to human rights matters, preferring to engage Chinese officials in dialogue instead of blasting blunt messages through the diplomatic megaphone.

Just how effective this approach has been is difficult to judge, but in terms of economic rewards Australia is a major supplier of energy and raw materials to China's booming economy.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang did not hesitate to grab the megaphone when he accused Australia of allowing the Dalai Lama to indulge his "splittist" agenda.

"He is a long-time political exile engaged in splittist activities and destroying national unity," Qin said.

"We hope that the Australian Government can deeply recognise this and proceed from the overall interests of maintaining healthy Sino-Australian relations and not allow the Dalai Lama to engage in splittist activities."

The Tibetan spiritual leader is hardly engaging in "splittist" activities as the Chinese so awkwardly put it. He is simply spreading a message of peace and hope.

The bully boys in Beijing are showing their true colours by threatening the Howard Government and other political leaders.

The threats about "maintaining healthy Sino-Australian relations" are not only unacceptable, they are hollow.

The concepts of freedom and democracy clearly do not sit well with the communist regime.

Memo Beijing: The reason we don't have jails full of dissidents, religious leaders in exile or the highest execution rate on Earth, is because we are a free and robust democracy.

That means we meet who we want to meet and allow who we want to come here to freely express their views.

We are happy to maintain good relations with China and to sell our coal, gas and other commodities to Chinese industries, but we cannot allow Beijing or anyone else to dictate who comes here and who they meet.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer made it clear that Australia will not accept threats or abuse from a supposedly friendly country: "I've explained to the Chinese on a number of occasions in relation to this issue that in this country, the Dalai Lama is regarded as a religious figure – a significant religious figure – and it's just not a proposition for us to refuse to give someone like the Dalai Lama a visa to visit Australia.

"China has a very different political system from Australia's but I'd ask the Chinese to respect the way our culture and our political system works."

Qin and his masters have a different view. He said bluntly that the Dalai Lama was "not a simple religious figure".

The Mandarin speaking Rudd, who met the Dalai Lama in a Canberra hotel on Monday, said Australia had a duty to treat the Dalai Lama with respect.

"Obviously the Chinese don't welcome these sort of things, I understand that, but at the same time we are in our country and the Dalai Lama is a major world religious leader and it is important that we treat him with appropriate respect," Rudd said.

In the subtle world of diplomacy, where words are bullets, both Downer and Rudd have told China to "bugger off" and rightly so.

Ian McPhedran is The Courier-Mail's national defence correspondent
OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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