Meeting with Dalai Lama cools warming ties with China


Staff Writer

A recent meeting between the Dalai Lama and Japanese lawmakers — including senior government officials — threatened Tuesday to stymie improving relations with China.

In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it “firmly opposes” any sort of contact between the Tibetan spiritual leader and the governments of other countries.

Akihisa Nagashima, special adviser to the prime minister on foreign and defense matters, and several other lawmakers of the Democratic Party of Japan and Liberal Democratic Party met with the Dalai Lama on Monday. Participants included Senior Vice Defense Minister Shu Watanabe and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan does not “officially” recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile, which China vehemently opposes.

This was the first meeting under DPJ rule between Diet members and the Dalai Lama.

“The government was completely unaware of the meeting and was only told after it was held,” stressed Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura during a news conference Tuesday morning.

He added that Nagashima was given “an explanation” on the government’s official position, but not a warning.

“It has been customary (for the Dalai Lama) not to engage in political activities or come in contact with Japanese government officials when visiting,” Fujimura explained, adding that he reminded Nagashima “that he was a member of the government.”

According to the Foreign Ministry, this is the second time a government official has met the Dalai Lama. The last time was in 2002 under the administration of LDP Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Kenzo Yoneda, then senior vice minister of the Cabinet Office, met the Tibetan leader.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to visit China in December and Monday’s meeting could have a negative impact on bilateral ties that are still recovering from a serious hit last year over the arrest of a Chinese skipper near the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands. The islets are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

China has asked Japan to refuse entry to the Dalai Lama, who was forced to flee to India after an attempted uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

“I don’t know if it was thoughtless or not, but (Nagashima) said he went in the capacity of a lawmaker,” Fujimura replied when asked about the effects the meeting could have on bilateral ties.