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Dalai Lama meets Swiss members of parliament

The Dalai Lama met a cross-party group of Swiss parliamentarians and a foreign ministry official in Geneva on Monday after the Swiss cabinet decided not to meet the visiting Tibetan spiritual leader in order to avoid another diplomatic row with Beijing.

This content was published on August 9, 1999 - 17:17

The Dalai Lama met a cross-party group of Swiss parliamentarians and a foreign ministry official in Geneva on Monday after the Swiss cabinet decided not to meet the visiting Tibetan spiritual leader in order to avoid another diplomatic row with Beijing.

During a state visit in March, Chinese President Jiang Zemin strongly criticised the Swiss government for failing to crack down on a protest by exiled Tibetans in the capital Berne, where he was due to meet cabinet members.

"We are a bit annoyed that our cabinet has chosen to be so 'pragmatic' and not to meet him," said one parliamentarian who asked not to be named after Monday’s discussions on the future of Tibet.

Marianne Gubler, president of the Association for Swiss-Tibetan Friendship, accused the Swiss government of putting business interests above human rights concerns.

"We are very disappointed (by the cabinet's decision). You have to see this in light of Jiang Zemin's recent visit. The cabinet is afraid of losing business with China," she said.

Swiss foreign ministry spokeswoman Monika Schmutz said the cabinet's decision not to meet the Dalai Lama on this trip was unrelated to the incident with the Chinese leader.

Schmutz said that China had made it clear it preferred the Swiss cabinet to keep its distance from the Dalai Lama.

But the Foreign Ministry sent Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, head of human rights and humanitarian policy at the ministry, to meet the Dalai Lama on Monday to discuss general issues concerning Tibet.

In 1995, then Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti also ignored Beijing’s protests and met with the Dalai Lama.

China invaded Tibet in 1950, claiming it was historically a Chinese province. Switzerland provided an early refugee for fleeing Tibetans. There are now more than 2,000 Tibetans living in Switzerland, making it the largest exiled Tibetan community in the West, and the third largest worldwide after India and Nepal.

Ruth Gonseth, a Greens Party member in the House of Representatives, said after the talks with the Dalai Lama that Switzerland should try to help bring about a political solution for Tibet – for instance by hosting an international conference.

But Gonseth conceded that this would be a futile effort unless China agreed to attend such a conference.


From staff and wire reports.

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