Israeli-chinese Relations Survive Controversy over Dalai Lama Meeting

Ties between Israel and China emerged intact this week after controversy over a meeting the Knesset speaker had with the Dalai Lama.

Despite protests from China over Speaker Avraham Burg’s meeting with the exiled Tibetan religious leader, Burg met Monday with the chairman of China’s National People’s Congress.

The meeting between Burg and Li Peng was initially scheduled for last week, but had been postponed because of China’s anger over an earlier meeting between Burg and the Dalai Lama.

China had warned that meeting could harm relations with Israel.

After Burg met Nov. 24 with the Dalai Lama, Li canceled a dinner with the speaker planned for the following day.

As leader of the Chinese Parliament, Li is considered China’s second most powerful figure. He is the highest-ranking official ever to visit Israel and the Palestinian self-rule areas.

“The Dalai Lama is not simply a religious figure,” Li was quoted as saying last week. “He is a separatist.

“That is why China rejects political activities carried [out] in other countries against China.”

The Dalai Lama went into exile in 1959, nine years after China occupied Tibet. Since then, the religious leader has spearheaded a campaign for Tibetan autonomy.

A recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, he denies Chinese claims that he is a separatist seeking full independence for Tibet.

Along with Beijing, Israel’s Foreign Ministry had pressured Burg not to meet with the Dalai Lama. The ministry had feared such a meeting would harm Israel’s chances of expanding trade with China. The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1992.

In light of China’s objections, no Israeli ministers met with the exiled leader with the exception of Education Minister Yossi Sarid, who hosted the Dalai Lama for what he termed a “private” meeting.

For his part, Burg refused to bow to the pressure from the Foreign Ministry, saying there were more important considerations than commercial ties.

Despite the protests from Beijing, when Li met with Burg on Monday he made no mention of Burg’s meeting with the Dalai Lama.

During the 90-minute meeting, both lawmakers expressed interest in deepening ties between the two countries.

“It turns out my refusal to accept the dictates of the Foreign Ministry did not hurt our relations with China,” Burg was quoted as saying after meeting with Li.

During his visit to the region, Li held separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Li also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, the Western Wall and several kibbutzim.

In an address Saturday to the Palestinian legislative council in Ramallah, Li said he believed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would bear fruit if the two sides remain “committed to the principle of land for peace.”

During their meeting Sunday, Barak told Li that Israel is worried about China’s transfer of military technology to Iran. Li responded that China “has normal ties to Iran.”

His meeting with Li came in stark contrast to the almost complete snub the Dalai Lama got from Israeli officials last week.

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