John Howard meets Dalai Lama to talk Tibet
AP[Friday, June 15, 2007 19:50]

Mr Howard's decision to meet the Dalai Lama was not taken lightly
Mr Howard's decision to meet the Dalai Lama was not taken lightly
SYDNEY, Australia, June 15: The Dalai Lama has met with Australia's prime minister, whose decision this week to host the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader drew stern criticism from China.

John Howard met the revered Buddhist icon Friday at the leader's office in Sydney, and talks between two men included the rift between China and Tibet.

"I think you know, you can guess," the Dalai Lama told reporters when asked what had been discussed at the meeting, which he described as "very beautiful." "Some explanation about our sort of latest situation, about my dialogue with the Chinese government."

Beijing regards the 71-year-old Buddhist monk as a beacon for pro-independence sentiment in Tibet, which China rules by military force, although the Dalai Lama has repeatedly said he seeks only autonomy for the region.

Decisions by top political leaders to meet the Dalai Lama during his 11-day tour of the country have generated friction between Australia and China, whose economies are becoming more entwined thanks to the communist giant's voracious appetite for minerals and Australia's ability to supply them.

"Dalai Lama is not a simple religious figure, he is a political exile engaged in 'splittist' activities for a long time," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday, after Howard confirmed plans to meet him.

He said China was "firmly against" any country that allows the Dalai Lama to visit to push for Tibetan independence.

China's Ambassador Zhang Junsai on Friday declined to renew the criticism.

"Our foreign spokesman has already stated our position," he said when asked at a function about the Dalai Lama's meeting with Howard. "I'm not going to say anything more about this."

The Dalai Lama met briefly with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark at an Australian airport on Thursday. At a news conference later, the Buddhist monk repeated his position that Tibet should be granted autonomy within China, not full independence, to preserve its language and culture.

"Our approach is to bring general unity, harmony between the central government of China and Tibet," he said. "We have to learn to live side by side."

Without genuine autonomy, he said, Tibet could face "extinction" in 15 years.

"China should give Tibet meaningful autonomy, because we have different language, with that rich different culture and heritage and rich Tibetan Buddhist tradition," he said, echoing earlier comments. "Intentional or unintentional, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place."

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said it was "not a proposition" for Australia to deny entry to a respected religious figure like the Dalai Lama.

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