China sends message after pope hints at Dalai Lama meeting

Francis had faced criticism for not meeting with the Tibetan spritual leader in December
China sends message after pope hints at Dalai Lama meeting

The Dalai Lama speaks last month during the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Rome (AFP Photo/Tiziana Fabi) reporter, Beijing
January 22, 2015
China on Wednesday urged the Vatican to improve ties after Pope Francis said he had “fixed” an undisclosed date to meet the Dalai Lama in a move that was destined to anger Beijing.

Although China’s Foreign Ministry did not directly criticize the Vatican, its response contained an implicit warning that recent dialogue between Beijing and the Holy See would be harmed if the pope meets with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.

“Based on the relevant principles, China will continue with the constructive dialogue with [the] Vatican to improve bilateral ties,” said spokesman Hua Chunying. “We hope the Vatican side can take concrete actions to create conditions for the improvement of bilateral relations.”

Francis said on his return flight from the Philippines on Monday that he was in touch with the Dalai Lama and that a date had been arranged for a meeting, “but not for the moment”.

The pope failed to meet with the Dalai Lama in December during the latter’s visit to Rome for a gathering of Nobel Peace Prize winners, prompting criticism in the media. In response, Francis said that diplomatic protocol dictated it would have been inappropriate for them to meet under such circumstances.

“My motive was not a rejection of the person or fear of China,” he told reporters on Monday.

The possibility of a meeting between the pontiff and the Dalai Lama comes at a time of strained but improving relations between both religious leaders and Beijing.

With Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader due to turn 80 in July, speculation has mounted that Beijing may extend an invitation for him to visit China in the near future as the Communist Party looks to control the thorny issue of the Lama’s succession.

The Dalai Lama has not been granted an audience with a pope since 2006, when he met briefly with Benedict XVI.

In recent years, China has stepped up pressure on countries to not meet with the Dalai Lama; both South Africa and Norway denied the Lama a visa last year.

The Holy See has been trying to mend relations with the Chinese Communist Party.

The pope sent a customary message to President Xi Jinping as the papal plane flew over Chinese airspace on the return flight from the Philippines, the third such greeting to China’s leader in the past six months.

This contact has coincided with secretive meetings between the Holy See and the Chinese government aimed at solving the divisive issue of joint ordinations.

At the end of November, reports in pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong and the mainland pointed to a possible breakthrough, although the pope did not speak of any concrete actions on his way back from the Philippines this week.

China’s state-run media warned on Thursday that a meeting between the pontiff and the Dalai Lama would severely irritate the Chinese leadership.

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“His audience with the Dalai Lama alone will definitely be seen as a step backward for bilateral relations,” Xu Yihua, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, was quoted as saying by the state-run Global Times.

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