ON THE WEB, 31 August 2014
The Dalai Lama “must fully distance himself from politics” if he wants to visit Russia, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has said, a stance echoing China’s position while appeasing Buddhists at home.
Lavrov made the remarks while addressing a question at the All-Russia Youth Forum Seliger-2014 on Wednesday.
According to the official Sina Weibo account of the Russian Embassy in China, Lavrov said Moscow has engaged in talks with leaders of the Republic of Kalmykia, where half the population believe in Tibetan Buddhism, over the issue.
“If it is a pastoral visit, the pastor should definitely withdraw from political activities. Unfortunately, we believe this is not the case,” he said.
China’s foreign ministry on Thursday told the Global Times it has to gather related information before commenting on Lavrov’s remarks. As of press time, the spokesperson’s office had not replied to the inquiry.
Xu Zhitao, an official with the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, which handles the Tibet question, told the Global Times Thursday that Moscow’s stance over the Dalai Lama visit is consistent with Beijing’s position.
“The Dalai Lama has been engaged in political activities under the disguise of religion. During his overseas activities, he has never shunned away from political topics. However, Western politicians choose to turn a blind eye to his deeds,” Xu said. “The Russian government respects the facts and holds an unambiguous stance over the question.”
Xu added that he believes Moscow has its own standard to distinguish the boundary between political and religious activities.
“Moscow’s stance over the Tibet question is becoming increasingly identical to that of Beijing’s,” Li Xing, a professor of Russian studies at Beijing Normal University, told the Global Times. “Against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis, Sino-Russian ties become even closer, as Moscow now counts on Beijing’s support on various fronts.”
The last visit to Russia by the Dalai Lama was in 2004. Since then, Moscow has denied his visa, despite leaders from Kalmykia’s attempts to bring him to the country.
Buddhism is the third-largest religion in Russia. In 2006, Kalmykia presented the Dalai Lama with the White Lotus Order, the republic’s highest civilian honor.
Li said that, while reassuring China, Moscow also tried to strike a balance out of concerns for its Buddhist population. “Instead of rejecting the Dalai Lama’s visit, it sets a prerequisite for him.”
In 2012, Putin said Moscow was working on bringing the Dalai Lama to Russia.
In 2010, Lavrov once said Russia was ready to assist dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama.
“Moscow did propose the dialogue, but we have repeatedly said that we contact the Dalai Lama under our established channels. Coming to the realization of our stance, Russia no longer makes such proposal,” Xu said.