Neither Prime Minister Balkenende nor the official Dutch head of state, Queen Beatrix, will meet the Dalai Lama while he is here in the Netherlands. On Friday, Tibet’s spiritual leader will, instead, meet the Dutch parliament and Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen.
Newsline's Davion C. Ford talks to four Tibetans living in the Netherlands about the Dalai Lama's visit:
Tibetan organisations in the Netherlands expressed their disappointment, and critics accused Mr Balkenende of bowing to Chinese threats. Norbu Dhondup, for example, a Tibetan living in exile in the Netherlands, says the PM's decision has affected his view of the Netherlands.
“It’s very, very sad, not only for the Tibetan people, but also for the Dutch people. When he came in 2001 and 2002, we believed, and the whole world believed that the Dutch had an open society. Now it’s the other way round. If you see the neighbouring countries, from France to Germany, they all meet the Dalai Lama. Why not the Netherlands actually?”
China expert Willem van Kemenade of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael, says the Chinese will consider Mr Balkenende’s decision a tacit victory.
“The Chinese, since the clash with France last year, have embarked on a Europe-wide campaign to coerce most governments to stop receiving the Dalai Lama at head of state or head of government level. Every country is weighing this according to its own interests and, apparently, Balkenende has now decided that Holland can no longer afford a confrontation with China over issues like Tibet.”
On Tuesday, Chinese entrepreneurs in Netherlands expressed fear that the Chinese government will impose punitive measures if, as planned, the Dalai Lama is officially received by parliament during his visit. The businessmen hope political issues will not be discussed, but the parliamentary foreign affairs committee has refused to give any guarantees.
Nevertheless, the entrepreneurs can take some measure of relief from Mr Balkenende’s decision not to receive the Dalai Lama. The move may be offensive in human rights circles, but it seems to make good economic sense, given China’s more than 20 billion euros of annual exports to the Netherlands. Mr van Kemenade says China is one of the Netherlands most significant trading partners.
“Holland, although small in size, is the second largest trading partner of China in the European Union, after Germany, ahead of large countries like England and France. This is, of course, mainly connected to the port of Rotterdam and Holland as a trading hub for the whole European Union.”
During the run-up to last year’s Beijing Olympics, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would boycott the games to protest the poor human rights situation in Tibet. The Chinese responded with a widespread boycott of French businesses. Mr van Kemenade says other countries have experienced similar treatment, including the Czech Republic, Belgium and Germany.
“At the end of 2007, there was the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who received the Dalai Lama in her office, in the Chancellery, and that led to a very serious clash with Germany. Top level delegations were cancelled for at least half a year. Trading interests were harmed; no large German companies could get any contracts signed.”
Mr van Kemenade expects the Dutch will be spared China’s economic wrath, but the true picture will only become clear after the Dalai Lama's visit.