UK defends Cameron-Dalai Lama meeting

2012-05-15 14:04

London - Britain said on Tuesday that Prime Minister David Cameron is free to meet with anyone he chooses, after China said the premier's meeting with the Dalai Lama was an "affront to the Chinese people".

China said it had launched "solemn representations" with London after Tibet's exiled spiritual leader held a private meeting with Cameron and his deputy on Monday during a visit to London to collect a lucrative prize.

Beijing has in the past strongly objected when the Dalai Lama, who seeks greater autonomy for Tibet from its Chinese rulers, has met Western leaders.

A British government spokesperson said: "We don't want to see our relationship with China disrupted by the Dalai Lama's visit."

But she added: "The Dalai Lama travels all over the world. He has visited the UK on several occasions and met with previous prime ministers.

"It is for the prime minister and deputy prime minister to choose who they see. The Dalai Lama is an important religious figure and advocate for peace and the prime minister regularly meets with such figures."

The meeting was held at St Paul's Cathedral, where the Dalai Lama was collecting the £1.1m ($1.8m) Templeton Prize, rather than at Cameron's Downing Street residence.

But the spokesperson denied that the meeting was deliberately held away from Cameron's residence to avoid angering China.

"Previous governments have generally met the Dalai Lama in a religious location," she said.

The Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland for India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, said on Monday that he would donate the prize to charity, with $1.5m going to Save the Children's operations in India, where he is exiled.