What a pity the Pope did not be meet the Dalai Lama when the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism was in Rome for a gathering of Nobel Laureates this past weekend. The meeting took place in Rome because the South African government refused the Dalai Lama a visa to visit South Africa. That too strikes me as a huge pity.
You do not have to be a Buddhist, or even a person like Richard Gere, to sympathise with the Dalai Lama and to regard him as important. For important he is, being the living symbol of a nation that the People’s Republic of China has long wished us all to forget. The Chinese invasion of Tibet, and its continuing occupation of Tibet, with the accompanying periodic crack downs on dissent, represents a huge injustice. Yes, we all know the history – Tibet was once a Chinese vassal state, as was Korea, as was Vietnam, but the truth of the matter is that legitimate Tibetan aspirations to nationhood have long been violently suppressed by the Chinese.
The People’s Republic of China condemns colonialism – or so it tells its African friends – yet it is the world’s single largest colonial power, holding Tibet against its will. They are incredibly touchy about this subject: hence their desire to isolate the Dalai Lama and sideline him. When the Chinese come to London on state visits, people often demonstrate in favour of Tibetan freedom. Back in 1999, when the Chinese President came, we were treated to the unedifying spectacle of British policemen trying to remove banners and Tibetan flags from demonstrators; in other words, the British state colluding with the Chinese authorities in their absurd assertion that somehow Tibet does not exist and is not a problem.
We know why the British government does not want to offend China. Hence no British officials will meet the Dalai Lama, and Britain shuns Taiwan, a democratic state. The Pope would certainly like to meet the Dalai Lama, I am sure, and the Dalai Lama is very popular in Italy, but the Pope knows that if he does Chinese Catholics will be made to suffer. The Dalai Lama knows this too – hence the reference to “inconveniences” in the article linked to above. The Chinese government has a proven record of making Catholics suffer, and no one outside China wants to make their situation worse.
But all this leaves us with a huge question: do we simply leave the Chinese to do as they please? Are they to be given carte blanche where Tibetan suffering is concerned? If the entire world were to make clear to the Chinese that their behaviour is unacceptable, then the Chinese would not be able to do much about it. But where Tibet is concerned, weakness and timidity is the order of the day. Given the world’s moral cowardice on this matter, how on earth can any country speak with moral authority on any other matter? Once you swallow Chinese oppression in Tibet, you can put up with more or less anything. And we have.
Alexander Lucie-Smith is a Catholic priest, doctor of moral theology and consulting editor of The Catholic Herald. On Twitter he is @ALucieSmith
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- Why Pope Francis won’t meet the Dalai Lama (christiantoday.com)