The Dalai Lama in Oslo (Photo by Federica Lelli Castanos)
It goes without saying that countries need China more than they need the Dalai Lama. I am fairly certain the Dalai Lama would say that himself since he has never asserted his individual importance. Stripped of all the hullabaloo around him, one must remember that he is a Buddhist monk primarily guided by the powerful principle of ‘Yatha Bhutam’ or the way it is or seeing things as they are. It is from this standpoint that I look at the Norwegian government’s refusal to meet him during his visit there.
If there is anything refreshing about countries bending over backwards not to displease China when the Dalai Lama visits, it is the candor with which Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg has acknowledged that the refusal to meet the Tibetan leader is prompted by the desire to improve relations with China. The Dalai Lama was visiting Norway to coincide with the 25th anniversary of his 1989 Nobel Peace Prize which had outraged Beijing then, coming as it did in the shadow of the Tiananmen Square, and continues to do so now.
Solberg was quoted by the Norwegian press agency NTB as saying, “It’s not as if China said that we cannot meet the Dalai Lama. We just know that if we do so, we’re going to remain in the freezer for even longer.” This is by far the most explicit and candid response I have heard from a head of state while dealing with the presence of the Dalai Lama in their country vis-à-vis China.
Although there is clear distinction between the Norwegian government and the Nobel committee that awards Nobel Prizes, China is known to extend its displeasure equally to both. What compounded Norway’s position in the freezer as it were was the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize being given to an imprisoned Chinese political dissident Liu Xiaobo in absentia. There was a symbolic empty chair at the award ceremony. Beijing has not forgotten that as well. In its wisdom the Solberg government has determined that between endearing themselves to the politically inconsequential liberal/human rights groups and mending ties with Beijing, the latter makes more practical sense.
The Dalai Lama has never taken these slights personally and is unlikely to see the Norwegian move as anything other than what countries do when they are faced with a difficult choice. In a sense, the Dalai Lama’s inherent Stithpragya precludes any specific reaction to it.