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Couchepin treads carefully with Dalai Lama

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin shakes hands with the Dalai Lama


The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, has held talks with Swiss Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin at a symposium entitled "Fear and Anxiety" in Zurich.

But China, an important Swiss trading partner, has criticised the meeting and the Dalai Lama’s political activities.

"Your presence in Switzerland should not be a cause for fear – quite the opposite," Couchepin said at the Federal Institute of Technology on Thursday. "It should be an opportunity to rise above fear and anxiety and pave the way for dialogue."

Couchepin, appearing in his capacity as minister responsible for religious affairs, quoted the Roman philosopher Augustine, who had sought spiritual explanations when Rome was besieged by Barbarians and later by Vandals.

Couchepin underlined that he wanted in no way to play Christian and Buddhist traditions off against each other. On the contrary, he said, through meetings such as this the two traditions can be mutually enriching.

Couchepin also had a short personal discussion with the Dalai Lama, whom he officially received as the "spiritual leader of the Buddhist Tibetans".


"We recognise China as one nation and Tibet belongs to it, but we are keen to help Tibetans preserve their own varied culture," Couchepin said at a news conference after meeting the Dalai Lama.

"Because Switzerland is so interested in the varied culture around the world, we are also keen that Tibet's Buddhist culture is preserved," he added.

The Dalai Lama, who presented the minister with a ceremonial scarf said to bring good luck, expressed his gratitude to the Swiss government.

"Just like any other government, the Swiss know about my stance of not seeking independence, so they can give the Chinese some sort of reassurance," said the Dalai Lama.

He also said more meetings between his representatives and Chinese officials could be held in Switzerland following a meeting in the Chinese embassy in Bern earlier this year.


The meeting between the Dalai Lama and a member of the Swiss government was not without controversy.

Ahead of the meeting the Chinese embassy in Bern told swissinfo: "The Dalai Lama is not a pure religious figure but a political exile, who has long engaged in activities of splitting China and undermining the national unity in the cloak of religion."

"The Chinese government firmly opposes any anti-China activities of the Dalai Lama or his followers in any country aimed at separating China, as well as any invitation extended to or meeting with the Dalai Lama by official figures of any country."

The interior ministry defended the meeting with Couchepin, pointing out that former cabinet ministers René Felber, Flavio Cotti and Ruth Dreifuss had previously met the Dalai Lama – in 1991, 1995 and 2001 respectively.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Couchepin’s meeting with the Dalai Lama lasted around 40 minutes and took place in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

Topics of discussion included the political situation in Tibet, religious and cultural freedom and the integration of the Tibetan community in Switzerland.

Couchepin also talked about his recent trip to Tibet.

The spiritual leader of Tibetans will deliver an eight-day series of Buddhist teachings in Zurich from August 5-12.

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The citizens' meeting

The citizens' meeting

The citizens' meeting