His Holiness the Dalai Lama

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

The Belgian government has asked the Dalai Lama to cancel a long-planned visit to Brussels this week in response to pressure from Beijing, which opposes foreign trips by the exiled Tibetan leader. The Belgian request is linked to the upcoming visit of a Belgian trade delegation to China, led by the Crown Prince. The cancellation of the visit comes on the eve of the EU-China human rights dialogue on May 15-16 in Berlin. The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was due to have visited Brussels on May 11-12 to meet with European Parliamentarians and attend a conference of NGOs supporting Tibet but has agreed to cancel the visit.

Tsering Jampa, Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet in Europe, said: ‘We are hugely disappointed that Belgium, a founding member of the European Union has acquiesced to China’s strong-arm tactics by silencing the Dalai Lama, one of the world’s greatest advocates for peace.’

‘ICT has consistently called for a coherent EU position on Tibet. The EU must now consider the message this cancellation sends in the week prior to their human rights dialogue with China, where we know the Tibet issue will be on their agenda,’ said Jampa.

The cancellation of the Tibetan leader’s Brussels trip follows the postponement under similarly controversial circumstances of an earlier visit meant to take place in June 2005. The date had coincided with a state visit by the Belgian King Albert II to China. ICT believes that the level of Chinese pressure on Belgium shows how seriously the Chinese government takes the enduring influence of the Dalai Lama, as well as its continued intolerance of the support of foreign governments for human rights and the Tibet issue.

Beijing describes the Dalai Lama as a ‘splittist’, and object to his visits to foreign countries on the grounds that he is ‘internationalising’ the Tibetan cause.

According to the Dalai Lama’s representatives, his decision to agree to cancel the Belgium visit was made in recognition of the enduring support for Tibet among the Belgian people and his principled approach of not inconveniencing his host government.

‘Belgium’s highly controversial decision must to lead to a discussion within the EU on how to respond to similarly aggressive approaches by China, and an assessment of mechanisms to protect member states from such coercive diplomacy prior to visits by the Dalai Lama to the EU,’ said Tsering Jampa.

European citizens have long known about China’s repression of the Tibetan people and the peaceful expression of their views. It is disturbing that in the run up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the Chinese government is being allowed to silence the Dalai Lama right at the heart of Europe.

Press briefing, May 10

The International Campaign for Tibet will co-host a press briefing at the European Parliament with the European Parliament’s Tibet Intergroup on the findings of a new report on religious repression in Tibet and ongoing attempts by Beijing to undermine the Dalai Lama’s influence. The venue is the MEP Restaurant on level zero of the European Parliament’s ASP building, Brussels, May 10, 9.30 am. to 10.30 am.