ICT Germany Executive Director Kai Mueller was interviewed by Deutsche Welle regarding the Dalai Lama’s trip to Europe. View on Deutsche Welle »

The Dalai Lama has been received rather coldly during his trip to Europe in May. While a thorn in China’s side he is a guiding light for peace in the eyes of many people around the world.

More than in the past, European politicians avoid big joint appearances with the Dalai Lama in order not to jeopardize economic relations with China. This is despite the fact that the Dalai Lama has resigned from his political role in 2011. How can we explain this contradiction?

Kai Müller:
The Chinese government has repeatedly stated its policy that neither the Dalai Lama nor the so-called “Dalai Clique” may travel to European countries and that the European governments should not provide support in any way. This is not new. Lately we do notice, however, a trend towards concessions to the Chinese government. We are concerned about this development because it shows how short term interests- most of them of economic nature – are being put above taking the uncomfortable stand for principles of international law. It reveals considerable weaknesses and results in a loss of credibility both internally and externally.

In 1989, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Until recently he has been received with open arms almost everywhere. Why is this sudden change happening now?

A lot has happened since then on the world stage. Looking at the economic importance China has gained in a very short period, it’s clear that there is a connection between the interests of the European industry (German, French and so on) and the Chinese market. Just take the automotive industry- Germany is highly dependent on market events in China. The international financial crisis, which weakened the western institutions, played an important role as well. In contrast, China has consolidated considerably and acts with new self-confidence.

During his visit in Germany in 2011, the Dalai Lama gave a speech in the Hessian State Parliament and was received like a high-ranking politician. This time, the meeting was much smaller. Is this linked to what happened in Great Britain and Norway?

I believe there are clear differences between the Hessian government’s interest in the Tibet issue and the Dalai Lama, for example, and the international developments on the other side. It is important for us that there are international trends with high impact on China and the situation in Tibet. The Hessian government has shown great interest in the Dalai Lama and Tibet for a long time and I believe it will continue to do so.

The Dalai Lama has always advocated for the respect of human rights in Tibet, and he still does. What is the current situation with regard to these rights in Tibet?

Clearly it must be said that the fundamental human rights in Tibet are being systematically restricted. There is no freedom of speech in Tibet. Talking about and discussing the government is not possible in any way. It results in severe penalties and prosecution. With regard to the Tibetan language and its use in public sphere, there is a concern that it degenerates from higher to a colloquial language, something that is also worrisome to the people in Tibet. Because of that they are taking to the streets, which is not as easy as in western countries. The security forces and police can pretty much act in a legal vacuum. The great resentment caused by that is being expressed in the terrible self-immolations. Therefore it is still necessary for representatives of international community and the German federal government to address this issue.

Besides the Dalai Lama, is there another voice for Tibet that is being recognized by the public?

Of course the Dalai Lama is the symbolic figure for the commitment to the Tibetan people. I cannot imagine another person with a similar impact- for decades he has impressed people with his consistent attitude towards peaceful conflict resolution, consensus and understanding for one another. He is a personality of world class, someone who fascinates people because of his ethics.

Kai Müller is Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet Germany.