A bilateral meeting between Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was cancelled on Sunday, in what has been interpreted as a retaliatory response to President Andrej Kiska’s lunch with the Dalai Lama in October.
Last week, Premier Li joined 16 other delegates from Eastern and Central Europe in the Latvian capital of Riga for the 16+1 summit. According to the South China Morning Post, Li’s entourage abruptly called off a high-level meeting with Fico scheduled to take place before the summit, much to the chagrin of Slovak officials. In response, the Slovak prime minister acknowledged that Chinese-Slovak relations had been “damaged” and were in need of repair before future projects between the two countries could be pursued.
The move was seen as a deliberate snub toward the Slovak government after the country welcomed the Dalai Lama during his European tour last month. The exiled leader’s visit included a talk with members of the European Tibetan community, a sold-out public lecture on “Secular Ethics,” and most notably a meal with the Slovak president, where the two discussed topics ranging from promoting greater understanding of other’s differences to religious intersectionality.
China was quick to express its disapproval of the meeting, stating that Kiska’s actions had undermined Chinese-Slovak relations by supporting the 14th Dalai’s separatist agenda. Chinese officials also warned that China would “react accordingly” to the Slovak’s diplomatic faux pas, a threat that now appears to have become a reality.
Numerous celebrities and world leaders have come into China’s crosshairs for interacting with the Tibetan spiritual leader. A 2014 meeting between the 14th Dalai and US President Barack Obama provoked outrage from Beijing, which charged that America was “interfering with China’s internal affairs.” Over the past few years, recording artists including Selena Gomez, Bon Jovi and Maroon 5 have seen their concerts and tour dates in mainland China scrapped after pictures and social media posts linking them with the Dalai Lama were discovered by Chinese officials. Lady Gaga is another rumored casualty of the Chinese government’s anger after appearing in a Facebook video together with His Holiness to discuss the concept of kindness.
Since his exile from Tibet after a failed uprising in 1959, the Dalai Lama has become a cultural icon and world famous religious figure abroad and a “wolf in monk’s clothing” in Beijing. According to China, the Dalai Lama’s continued advocacy for more Tibetan autonomy is a direct political threat to the authority of the Chinese state. Unrest is common in the region, where over 100 Tibetan monks have set fire to themselves since 2009 in order to protest Chinese rule.
By Avery Davenport
[Images via Facebook / dalailama.com]