According to an Irish News report today
…OFMDFM has refuted any suggestion that the Stormont leaders snubbed the Dalai Lama when he visited Derry last month.
A spokesperson for OFMDFM said the ministers were unable to attend “due to prior diary commitments”.
Which is fine… After all, “diary pressures” was the same excuse Tony Blair gave in 2004 when he was accused of snubbing the Tibetan leader – although they had already met in 1999 in a “spiritual capacity”. And it appears that the Northern Ireland First and deputy First Ministers neglected to inform in advance the charity that issued the invitation. From the same Irish News report
Children in Crossfire’s Mr Moore said he did not know why Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness did not accept the invitation.
“We never got a response so we don’t know why they didn’t accept,” he said.
But, as I mentioned when OFMDFM claimed being double-booked when ducking out of a different meeting
That’s why you have junior ministers, guys.
There is, however, another reason for the failure to attend. And it, probably, helps to explain Irish Government ministers’ apparent absence during the Dalai Lama’s first visit to Ireland in 20 years…
Countries that allow the Dalai Lama to visit are occasionally held up for scorn, particularly when civic leaders meet with “His Holiness”. Mayors in Paris as well as Portland, Oregon, have been the targets in recent years of Chinese campaigns to stop so-called “splittist” activity, which can be defined as anything from meeting with the Dalai Lama to celebrations of non-communist-approved Tibetan culture.
Accordingly, during the Derry visit, Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson were nowhere to be seen, surely mindful of their upcoming trade mission to China. [added emphasis]
Whether they’ll be any more transparent about that trip is another matter.
But it’s not just mayors in Paris and Portland who can feel a diplomatic chill from China. As the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has discovered after meeting with the Dalai Lama last May. From the Telegraph report
Under a bilateral agreement, Mr Cameron was due to visit China last autumn but that visit was called off. This year it was the turn of Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier, to visit Britain – but plans for that have now been put on hold.
Last month, a British trade trip to China, also due to have been led by Mr Cameron, did not take place. In contrast, François Hollande, the French president, was greeted with a 21-gun salute in Beijing recently.
Last May, China warned Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, of “serious consequences” for Britain after the private meeting with the Dalai Lama in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Sebastian Wood, Britain’s ambassador in Beijing, was summoned to the foreign ministry to receive a rebuke from Song Tao, China’s vice-foreign minister. The foreign ministry said the meeting with the exiled Tibetan leader had “seriously interfered with China’s internal affairs”. Mr Song urged Britain to take “practical actions to correct the error”.
However, the pleas were ignored, and China is now exerting public pressure on the Government to bow to its demands and make amends.
According to a BBC report
Mr Cameron’s spokesman said: “It is entirely reasonable for the prime minister to decide who he meets.
“The Chinese government always lobbies hard against any meetings between foreign governments and the Dalai Lama. We have made clear in advance to the Chinese government that British ministers will decide who they meet and when they meet them.” [added emphasis]
Asked whether the prime minister felt under pressure from Beijing to apologise, his spokesman replied: “Not pressure, no.”
Questioned over whether Mr Cameron was effectively banned from China, he said: “No. I believe the prime minister aims to go before the end of the year.”
He declined to reveal whether dates for a proposed visit had been discussed, but said: “We regularly discuss issues of mutual interest and importance with the Chinese.”
“We welcome our friendship with the Peoples Republic of China…”