Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn in Vienna, Austria, on May 26, 2012. (File photo/OHHDL/Tenzin Choejor)
DHARAMSHALA, June 7: China has reportedly threatened to take away all pandas loaned to a zoo in Vienna over “mistake” committed by Austrian leaders of meeting with the exiled Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama more than a year ago.
According to reports in the Austrian paper "Die Presse
," the Chinese government has threatened to take Schönbrunn Zoo’s panda’s away if the Austrian government meets the Dalai Lama again.
Chinese ambassador to Vienna is reportedly putting pressure on Austrian officials to break relations with the exiled Tibetan leader.
In May last year, the Tibetan Nobel Peace laureate met Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger.
Chancellor Faymann had called the meeting "a clear political signal for human rights, non-violence and dialogue and against oppression" and added that he was personally interested in meeting such an "eminent figure" as the Dalai Lama.
He further dismissed warnings from Beijing that its relations with Vienna could be threatened by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader's visit to Austria.
"I answer the question of whom I meet myself, and that goes for the Dalai Lama," Faymann had said. "Austria is a country which has always shown itself to be on the side of human rights, and I alone am responsible for my agenda."
Following the meetings, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters that Austria’s actions were a “severe interference with China's internal affairs, hurt the feelings of Chinese people and sent false signals to the "Tibet independence" forces.”
The panda-couple loaned to the Austrian zoo were on a 10-year hire agreement which officially came to an end in March this year but zoo officials had announced late last year that the couple would be allowed to stay another 10 years following an agreement with the "China Wildlife Conservation Association."
"We signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the duration of the transitional period. There is obviously a political background that needs to be cleared too," Eveline Dungl, the person responsible for the pandas at the zoo, told the Austrian Times
“Chinese officials only want to sign the contract when there is return to a "good bilateral atmosphere," as formulated by a diplomat,” the report noted.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, one of the most prominent natural habitats for pandas is located on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau, now incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Gansu.