“The Dalai Lama’s soft power draws crowds in Finland”

Robbie Barnett, a consistently good commentator on all things Tibetan, lays out why it’s time for governments to start ignoring Chinese complaints about meeting the Dalai Lama:

One of the panelists, Professor Robert Barnett, Director of Modern Tibetan Studies at New York’s Columbia University, has noticed how primitive western European countries seem to be when it comes to diplomacy with China:

“China uses the Dalai Lama as an opportunity to pretend to be very angry when he meets a western leader, in order to get a concession out of the western leader in return, as a kind of apology. They’ve been so successful with this…because diplomats are frightened by the rhetoric that China is upset.”

Barnett notes that former communist eastern block countries — such as Estonia — are more used to and therefore not so easily intimidated by these tactics.

According to Professor Barnett, the U.S. has also showed some strength in calling China’s diplomatic bluff.

“Obama had a meeting with Dalai Lama in July, and the Chinese complained furiously. They called in the chargé d’affaires of the American embassy in Beijing and complained, but actually they did nothing. No punishment followed to the Americans whatsoever,” Barnett said.

In light of such observations, politicians such as Jutta Urpilainen might reconsider their stance on meeting the Dalai Lama — if the 76-year-old spiritual leader makes it to this part of the world again. A man who draws crowds of nearly 10,000 as well as extensive media coverage is hardly insignificant to voted-in political leaders. In Barnett’s words, the Dalai Lama has immense “soft power that every western politician or president would die to have.”

“The European people need to work out their China policy, because if you don’t show a certain robustness, then you lose the diplomatic game,” Professor Barnett continues. “And the Dalai Lama is a very good opportunity for westerners to work out a way of relating to China, because he’s not a violent person and he’s not supporting independence. So they have an opportunity here to say, we’ll meet him and we’re not really worried about what China might do. China doesn’t really seem to do so much, if it’s pushed on that issue, because it does not want to lose the friendship of these countries. It needs Finland, and needs other countries’ trade as well.”

Amen.

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