Dalai Lama urges Britain not to forget Tibet

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The Independent Online

The Dalai Lama today appealed to Britain not to forget Tibet in its efforts to forge stronger relations with China.

On the second day of his visit to the UK, the exiled Tibetan spiritual and political leader brushed aside criticisms of Gordon Brown's refusal to meet him in Downing Street.

At a packed Westminster news conference he insisted that his visit had always been intended to be "non political".

He also went out of his way to praise the response of the Chinese authorities to the Sichuan earthquake, and even suggested that he would be prepared to attend the Beijing Olympics in August.

But while he acknowledged that building economic relations with China was important for Britain and the West, he said that they should not forget their commitment to human rights.

"The economy is important, but human values are more important. Human issues like human rights," he said.

"While you are making close relationship in the business field, there is no point in forgetting about principles. I think that is very important."

The Dalai Lama rejected suggestions that Britain and other Western nations had been "cowed" by China's economic power.

Mr Brown has been accused of "kow-towing" to the Chinese by arranging to meet him at Lambeth Palace - the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury - in his capacity as a spiritual leader rather than receiving him at No 10.

However, the Dalai Lama said: "Basically, my visit is non-political. The media have politicised it."

He said that he would express his appreciation to Mr Brown for the "genuine concern" he had shown over Tibet when they meet on Friday.

While he cautioned that it would be a mistake to try to isolate China, he said that Britain should be prepared to criticise the Beijing government "as a friend".

"I was always against the isolation of China. Not good. China is a very important nation we must respect," he said.

"As Tibetans say, if you are a true friend, a close friend, then it is important to make clear the wrong things about your friend in a friendly manner," he said.

The Dalai Lama urged Tibetans not to try to disrupt the progress of the Olympic torch relay when it passes through Tibet on its way to the Games in Beijing.

"I appeal, particularly inside Tibet, (people) should not disrupt the Olympic torch when they visit," he said. "We must respect, we must protect that."

He even suggested that he would be prepared to go to the Olympics himself if talks between his representatives and the Beijing authorities on the Tibetans' demands for autonomy within China showed signs of real progress.

"It very much depends on our meeting. If the situation in Tibet and some kind of long-term solution happens, then I am happy to go there - if the invitation comes," he said.