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Prime Minister and Opposition Leader will meet the Dalai Lama.

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Tuesday 12 June 2007

Prime Minister and Opposition Leader will meet the Dalai Lama


MARK COLVIN: It's taken a month long diplomatic dance, but the smiling monk who's Tibet's spiritual leader in exile will now be able to meet both the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the man who wants his job, Kevin Rudd. 


It's no secret that the Chinese Government doesn't like the Dalai Lama, and puts the diplomatic squeeze on national leaders not to meet him when he visits their countries. 


But this time, it seems, the public opinion backlash may have outweighed the influence of the Asian giant whose burgeoning economy has done so much to lengthen this country's economic boom.  


There is no word as yet from the Chinese Embassy on how it views the meetings. 


Chief Political Correspondent Chris Uhlmann reports. 


CHRIS UHLMANN: The Dalai Lama must be used to making world leaders nervous, given every time he meets one China usually makes no secret of its displeasure. 


If nothing else his visit to these shores certainly played merry hell with the diaries of Australia's top politicians. 


Last month the Opposition Leader's office said Kevin Rudd would not be meeting the Dalai Lama on this trip.  


Later that same day the Prime Minister was asked if he would be meeting the spiritual leader. 


JOHN HOWARD: Well, my position is, I'm looking at my diary. 


CHRIS UHLMANN: That was widely interpreted as a "yes" and shortly afterwards Kevin Rudd performed an elegant back flip. 


However, for that seemed a trifle premature as, for a while, that space in the Prime Ministerial diary was hard to find. As late as this morning his office hadn't confirmed the meeting. 


The Dalai Lama told the Press Club he understands the problem. 


DALAI LAMA: So if I have the opportunity of meeting the Prime Minister, perhaps I can listen to him as an old friend, because once I met. So I'm happy, I will be happy. If not, it doesn't matter. On this table I heard the Prime Minister may … (laughs) … visit me, or I don't know. 




So ask the Prime Minister's office. 




CHRIS UHLMANN: The Prime Minister's office announced just before midday that John Howard had finally found that space in his diary, later this week.  


In the Senate, the Greens Bob Brown asked Government leader Nick Minchin if the Prime Minister would take the opportunity to seek a reconciliation between the exiled Tibetan leadership and China. 


NICK MINCHIN: The Prime Minister has announced that he will be meeting with the Dalai Lama, I think this week. I'm sure that's something that many in this chamber would welcome, and I personally am pleased that he is in a position to do so, as someone who does respect the Dalai Lama and his role in the world. 


I will … I don't know what the content of the discussions will be, through you, Mr President, to Senator Brown. I'm happy to ensure the Prime Minister is aware of your recommendation, Senator Brown, but obviously that will be a matter for the Prime Minister as to what he wishes to raise with the Dalai Lama when he meets him. 


This is a difficult and sensitive area, as he would well understand. I respect not only Senator Brown's but many others who have a particular view about the situation in Tibet. Senator Brown will also understand the extraordinary importance of Australia's relationship, and it's one that I think the Prime Minister in particular can take great credit for establishing a very strong professional relationship with China. 


CHRIS UHLMANN: The Dalai Lama was in Parliament House this afternoon and there was a long queue of politicians of all stripes queuing to chat and be photographed. The likelihood that any of that will transform China's attitude seems remote. 


PM was unable to contact the Chinese Embassy for comment. 


MARK COLVIN: Chris Uhlmann.