The Australia Tibet Council (ATC) said on May 21, 2002 that a planned meeting between the Dalai Lama and the Australia-China human rights dialogue delegation was no substitute for the Prime Minister meeting the Tibetan leader. The Australian Government had announced the meeting, most probably following intense public pressure.

ATC, however, said that it welcomed the opportunity for members of the delegation to brief the Dalai Lama on the dialogue, and hoped that this would lead to a more robust emphasis on Tibet in future dialogue sessions.

“This meeting is essentially a useful but limited middle level briefing session”, ATC President Alex Butler said. “We do not regard it as an official Australian government meeting with the Dalai Lama. This will not satisfy the wishes of the hundreds of thousands of Australian people who expect the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition to the meet the Dalai Lama.”

The Australian Government has released details of the delegation meeting in an apparent attempt to counter reports that it has entered into an agreement with the Chinese Government that no Australian official will meet the Dalai Lama during his visit, ATC said.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who is on a visit to China, defended his government’s approval of a visit by the Dalai Lama. Responding to a question from the audience when he spoke at the Communist Party School on May 22, 2002, Howard said the Dalai Lama was welcomed to Australia as a “spiritual leader.”

“It is wholly consistent with the Australian tradition that somebody like the Dalai Lama would be able to visit,” the Prime Minister added, according to AP.