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Prime Minister rejects criticism from Chinese official for allowing visit by Dalai Lama.

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Thursday 23 May 2002

Prime Minister rejects criticism from Chinese official for allowing visit by Dalai Lama.


LINDA MOTTRAM: He was roundly criticised over his government's treatment of the Dalai Lama in Australia, now on an official visit to China Prime Minister John Howard has been forced to defend the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader before members of China's ruling Communist Party.  


But Mr Howard has been keen to avoid a range of prickly topics while his hosts decide who will win a multi-billion dollar commercial contract.  


From Beijing, China correspondent Tom O'Byrne reports. 


TOM O'BYRNE: Thirty years ago at a time when Sino-Australian relations were just taking shape, Mr Howard freely admitted it would have been hard for him to imagine talking to a gathering of Communist Party officials at a campus in Beijing.  


Yet here he was, on stage, talking partnerships, shared interests and mutual respect for a political system that a young John Howard had struggled to understand. Also defending his government against charges from one official for appearing to give the Dalai Lama a platform to tout anti-China policies under the cover of religion.  


JOHN HOWARD: It would not be consistent with the tradition of Australia to ban the entry of such a person. We respect your system and your values, you respect our system and our values and we respond to people and situations and groups within the context of our own values and our own traditions as you do in relation to yours. 


TOM O'BYRNE: In Australia before coming to Beijing, the Government's hardline over not meeting the Dalai Lama had prompted criticism of Mr Howard but he's now hit back after being attacked by the Dalai Lama's strongest critics.  


Mr Howard himself pointed out the irony during dinner over night with China's Premier, Zhu Rongji. 


JOHN HOWARD: And I remarked to the Premier that I had had criticism on one side of the argument when I was in Australia and I'd had criticism on the other side of the argument while I was in China.  


He did not complain to me about any aspect of the Dalai Lama, we merely talked about it. 


TOM O'BYRNE: During the talks Mr Howard said the conversation ranged from concern about the tension on the India Pakistan border to an agreement to resume the stalled bilateral security dialogue.  


There was a chance too, he said, to push what's been the centrepiece of Mr Howard's China visit, the Australian LNG bid for a lucrative gas supply contract. 


LINDA MOTTRAM: China correspondent Tom O'Byrne reporting.