The Dalai Lama displayed his political savvy in London, Wednesday, one day into an 11-day visit that Prime Minister Gordon Brown hopes China will see as purely religious in nature. In a meeting with the British Parliament and a subsequent press session, the exiled Tibetan leader called for an end to protests against the Olympic torch relay ahead of the Beijing Games, urging his supporters to respect the symbol's progression through Tibet from June 19-21. "I made clear right from the beginning that we fully support Olympic games," the Dalai Lama told the press Wednesday. "The Olympic torch is part of that. We must respect, we must protect that."
Going a step further, the Tibetan leader stated he would be willing to attend the summer games himself should he be invited to Beijing. But, he clarified, his attendance would be contingent on success in talks with China to resolve the situation in Tibet.
In statements last week in Germany, the Tibetan leader stressed that he and the Tibetan people desired greater autonomy from China rather than complete independence, citing China's strong economy as a benefit. "We are not seeking separation," he told a 20,000-strong crowd in Berlin on Monday, a stop on his five-nation Western tour, which will also include France, Australia and the United States.
That's not to say, however, that he avoids criticism of China. Upon receiving an honorary doctorate in philosophy from London Metropolitan University on Tuesday, the Dalai Lama denounced China's "totalitarian" government, criticizing its over-politicized education system.
The latest statements were a masterful display from a practiced statesman mindful of both the possibilities and the limits of each situation he confronts. In the course of his current tour, he has encountered reticence from European politicians unwilling to anger China. German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined to meet with him at all last week, while Britain's Brown has agreed to a face-to-face, but only in a purely "spiritual" capacity alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Brown has been criticized by pro-Tibetan campaigners and opposition politicians for bowing to Chinese pressure and avoiding a meeting with the Dalai Lama at 10 Downing Street.
The Dalai Lama will testify on human rights issues, Tuesday, before the Foreign Affairs Committee of Britain's parliament.