March 19, 2008 / 7:37 PM / 10 years ago

UK's Brown to meet Dalai Lama, risks Chinese anger

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Wednesday he would meet exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, when he visits Britain in May.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown is seen leaving Downing Street in London March 19, 2008. Brown said on Wednesday he would meet exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, when he visits Britain in May. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

China’s Foreign Ministry said it was “seriously concerned” by Brown’s statement in parliament, which risks damaging his drive for closer relations with China.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has accused the Dalai Lama of masterminding protests against Chinese rule in Tibet that culminated in riots in which dozens may have died. The Dalai Lama denies the accusations.

“I will meet the Dalai Lama when he is in London,” Brown said. “I think it is important that we all facilitate discussions (about Tibet).”

Tibet activists and the opposition Conservatives welcomed Brown’s announcement on the Nobel peace laureate, who is due to visit Britain in late May.

Anne Holmes, director of the Free Tibet Campaign, which campaigns for Tibetan self-determination, urged Brown to meet the Dalai Lama at his official Downing Street residence, giving the meeting added weight.

China’s Foreign Ministry urged Britain to understand the Dalai Lama’s “true face” and offer no support, reported Xinhua news agency, monitored in London.

“China is seriously concerned about the message (Brown’s remarks on his willingness to meet Dalai),” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, according to Xinhua.

CHILL IN RELATIONS

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to meet the Dalai Lama last year led to a four-month chill in relations between Germany and China, the world’s fourth-biggest economy that has been growing at a double-digit pace for years and is regarded as a crucial market by global businesses.

Yiyi Lu, an expert in Chinese politics at London’s Chatham House thinktank, said the timing of Brown’s announcement, so soon after the riots in Tibet and before Beijing hosts the Olympic Games in August, was particularly sensitive.

Brown has launched a drive to improve relations with China, stressing on a visit in January that Britain was open to Chinese trade and investment, and lobbying for China’s new $200 billion sovereign wealth fund to open an office in London.

But he has been under pressure from rights activists and legislators to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader. More than 100 lawmakers of all parties signed a parliamentary motion urging him to do so.

Brown spoke to China’s Wen on Wednesday, making it “absolutely clear that there had to be an end to violence in Tibet” and calling for dialogue, he said.

Brown said Wen had told him he was prepared to hold talks with the Dalai Lama under certain conditions.

“The premier told me that, subject to two things that the Dalai Lama has already said — that he does not support the total independence of Tibet and that he renounces violence — that he would be prepared to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama,” he said.

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