A news media report about a Chinese community bid to have New Zealand block a visa for the Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama has stirred controversy. Critics condemn what the see as a derogatory attack.
By Christopher Adams: Pacific Media Centre
Chinese community leaders are split over the planned visit by the Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama to visit New Zealand at the end of the year and some want the trip called off.
Several leaders are also annoyed with some media coverage, including a New Zealand Herald story last month that revealed the United Chinese Association of Auckland was planning to send a protest letter to the Government asking for the Dalai Lama to be refused a visa.
Steven Wong, president of the UCA, was quoted in the Herald story as saying: “The Dalai Lama is just a stirrer and everywhere he goes, he spreads lies and destroys relationships.”
Wong, who migrated from the Canton region of China to New Zealand in 1975, is disappointed with the story, and claims the reporter who wrote it, Lincoln Tan, misquoted him.
“I never said he [the Dalai Lama] spreads lies,” he says. “How can I say he is a liar? If I said that he could sue me.”
Tan maintains that Steven Wong made the statement, and believes he is now denying the comments because, in retrospect, he regrets them.
“He definitely said it,” says Tan.
But Wong, although he denies making the statement quoted by Tan, does believe the Dalai Lama’s visit will be detrimental to the bonds between the New Zealand and Chinese Governments.
According to a statement given by a National Party spokesman to the New Zealand Herald, a meeting between Prime Minister John Key and the Dalai Lama may take place during the religious leader’s visit to New Zealand in December.
Such a meeting would resume New Zealand’s official relations with the exiled Tibetan, after Helen Clark refused to meet him on previous visits.
“If the Dalai Lama comes and meets John Key it will affect the relationship between New Zealand and China,” says Wong.
Wong warns that the same could happen in New Zealand as in France last December, when a meeting between French President Nicholas Sarkozy and the spiritual leader incensed the Chinese government.
The meeting resulted in Beijing scrapping an EU-China summit that France was set to host.
The business relationship that exists between New Zealand and China, especially the Free Trade Agreement signed in April 2008, is beneficial for both countries, says Wong.
But he adds that he is not concerned about the Dalai Lama’s visit because of his own business interests, as the potato chip factory he owns in East Tamaki is not currently exporting its products to China.
“Most Chinese migrants don’t want the Dalai Lama to come,” says Wong.
Thuten Kesang, chairman of the New Zealand Friends of Tibet organisation, is also unhappy with the Herald story, which Lincoln Tan also interviewed him for.
“My personal belief [about the story] is that Lincoln Tan should have reported more deeply,” says Kesang. “Lincoln should have backed up Steven Wong’s comments about his holiness [the Dalai Lama].
He says asking the government to not to issue a visa is fine, but being derogatory about the spiritual leader is not.
Kesang, who was born in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, says Steven Wong should have known better than to make the comments.
“He is living in a democracy – it’s not China,” he says.
Kesang believes it is the business interests of people involved with the United Chinese Association that has lead them to take a negative stance against the Dalai Lama.
“The United Chinese Association would be Chinese migrants from mainland China who are heavily involved in the import/export business. Therefore, they feel they need to be the mouthpiece of the Chinese government in order to get favours and good business relations with China.”
The Chinese Communist Party is currently placing a lot of emphasis on the Dalai Lama’s travel plans, says Kesang.
Kesang adds that the Chinese government had its first success recently when the South African government refused the Dalai Lama a visa to visit the country and speak.
“I think countries shouldn’t get away with this,” says Kesang. “Trade is fine, but China doesn’t have the right to dictate what other countries do. No country should trade human rights for economics.”
However, Kesang is certain the New Zealand government will never refuse the Dalai Lama a visa to visit the country.
“I am 100 percent sure the New Zealand government won’t refuse a Nobel Laureate a visa,” he says. “New Zealanders love their freedom too much to be dictated to.”
Kesang is pleased with the prospect of the Dalai Lama having a meeting with John Key during his visit.
Both of Kesang’s parents died as a result of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, he says.
“My father died in Chinese prison and my mother of starvation.”
Jim He, secretary-general of the United Chinese Association, has a different stance to Wong over the Dalai Lama’s visit.
“In my opinion, the Dalai Lama can come, but his trip is just to emphasise his own views on the Tibet issue.”
But he adds that, as a group, the UCA doesn’t support the Tibetan religious leader.
“We think of China as one country and Tibet has been a part of China since hundreds of years ago.” he says. “The Dalai Lama just spreads propaganda.”
He, who is originally from Beijing and came to New Zealand in 1988, believes the Chinese occupation has been positive for Tibet.
“Look at the current economy,” says He. “The central government has injected billions of dollars into Tibet.”
Simon Harrison, secretary of the Dalai Lama Visit Trust, was disturbed by Wong’s comments reported in the Herald story.
“The comments that were made were outrageous, particularly about the Dalai Lama,” says Harrison.
“We have no problem recognising trade relations, but it [the Dalai Lama’s visit] is just the result of an invitation by the New Zealand people.”
Harrison adds that Chinese nationals are often keen to uphold the line their government takes on issues such as Tibet, especially when they find themselves living outside China.
Referring to the commonly held Chinese belief that Tibet has always been a part of their country, he says: “The propaganda in that line is often false, historically. I would be happy to engage in discussions with these groups in order to clear up some of the historical confusions.”
Harrison hopes that a meeting will take place between the Dalai Lama and the Prime Minister during his New Zealand visit.
“It is very important that some kind of symbolic gesture is made,” he says.
The Dalia Lama is scheduled to speak at Auckland’s Vector Arena on December 6.
Christopher Adams is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University. Credit: The photo of the Dalai Lama is from the Australian National University.
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