BY XIE WENTING
He was once a guest of honor, speaking at prestigious events, enjoying cozy dinners with influential world leaders. But these good old days for the Dalai Lama have gone as his role has changed from a “sweet pastry” to a “hot potato” in the international community over the years.
Most of the Dalai Lama’s overseas trips were canceled in 2018, including his scheduled visits to North America. The official website of the Dalai Lama shows he only made nine visits in 2017, compared to 16 at his peak in 2010.
Public records also show that major world leaders are shunning the Dalai Lama.
For instance, while former US President Barack Obama met with him four times during his presidency, current president Donald Trump hasn’t received the Dalai Lama so far.
Sun Hongnian, a researcher at the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies, told the Global Times that one of the reasons the Dalai Lama is being given the cold shoulder is because the international society sees his true face more clearly and realizes that he will never give up his attempt to separate the Tibet Autonomous Region from China under the guise of religion.
“On the other hand, China is becoming more prominent and closer to the center of the world stage. Many world leaders have realized that meeting the Dalai Lama and supporting ‘Tibetan separation’ is brutal interference into China’s internal political affairs, which will affect the normal development of bilateral relations, and is good to none,” Sun said.
He added more countries now understand that mutual respect is the key to developing a healthy relationship with China. “China is firm in safeguarding sovereignty and has drawn the red lines, of which Tibet is an important part,” he said, adding “these countries have learned to respect China’s core interests.”
Wang Xiaobin, a scholar at the China Tibetology Research Center, told the Global Times that the Western countries’ attitude toward the Dalai Lama keeps changing based on their interests.
“The Dalai Lama became an ‘orphan’ when Western countries found him of no use to them,” he said. He added that this isn’t decided by the Dalai clique, but influenced by national and international situations.
From 1969 to 1977, for instance, the US rejected the Dalai Lama’s repeated requests to visit because it wanted to mend ties with China and isolate the Soviet Union at that time, Wang said.
The golden era for the Dalai Lama arrived after 1989 when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But that time has long gone as China’s economy and national strength have improved at a fast pace.
“Many countries now look to China for help. They hope to work with China on trade, business and other fields. So their support for the Dalai Lama has waned,” Wang said.
It has been more difficult for him to visit foreign countries in recent years as they don’t want to sacrifice ties with China for a waning Dalai clique.
In August 2017, the Dalai Lama’s visit to Botswana, which would have been his first visit to Africa, was cancelled four days before the trip. Many people speculated that China’s objection was the deciding factor in the cancellation.
Sun pointed out that a meeting with the Dalai Lama could hurt a country’s economy.
A 2013 report by Andreas Fuchs of Heidelberg University’s Alfred Weber Institute for Economics showed that a meeting between a head of state and the Dalai Lama could lead to an average drop in exports to China of 16.9 percent.
And a meeting between a government official and the Dalai Lama could lower exports to China by an average of 12.5 percent.
“The world economy is on a downward trend. People care about their countries’ economic development. Voters will use their ballot to tell party leaders what to do,” Sun said.
Within the Dalai clique, some also realized that they are merely a tool of the West.
Gyalo Thondup, the second elder brother of the Dalai Lama, said in his memoir The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong that “I do not think that the Americans ever really even wanted to help. They just wanted to create trouble, using Tibetans to create misunderstandings and discord between China and India.”
Sun noted that the Dalai Lama will remain a political “hot potato” for a long time.
“It’s a wise decision for any country to shun the Dalai Lama to avoid damaging relations with China,” Wang said.
But Wang and Sun warned that Western countries won’t easily give up playing the Dalai card and they will pressure China with it from time to time to make demands of China.