Australia and China spar over the Dalai Lama


Sydney : China must respect Australia's democratic system and accept that exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama can visit whenever he wants, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Wednesday.

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"China has a very different political system from Australia, but I've asked the Chinese to respect the way our culture and our political system works," Downer said. "This is one of the world's great liberal democracies and someone like the Dalai Lama will always be able to come to Australia."

Downer was responding to Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang's assertion that the Dalai Lama's Australian visit could harm bilateral ties.

The Dalai Lama met opposition Labour Party leader Kevin Rudd in Canberra Tuesday and is expected to meet Prime Minister John Howard in Sydney Friday.

Rudd, a former diplomat in Beijing who speaks Mandarin, said he was not surprised China had complained about the visit. "Obviously the Chinese don't welcome these sort of things, I understand that, but at the same time we are in our country and the Dalai Lama is a major world religious leader and it is important that we treat him with appropriate respect," Rudd said.

Rudd has postponed a visit to China he was planning, prompting speculation that the reason for this was Beijing's anger at the Dalai Lama's visit.

Members of parliament from both sides of politics have spoken out what they see as Chinese interference in Australia's domestic affairs.

Ruling coalition legislator Don Randall condemned Beijing's bullyboy tactics, saying, "We don't ever get stood over by some foreign power, certainly not China."

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown said the prime minister should offer himself as an "honest broker between China and exiled Tibetans" when he meets the Dalai Lama later this week.

"Many Australians would like to see John Howard take it a step further and become an honest broker between Beijing and the exiled Tibetans, to get the Tibetan wish for autonomy on the road and to resolve this issue, which is now more than half a century old," Brown told reporters.