THIS week two Nobel-peace-prize laureates, both international figures of inspiration, find themselves visiting Britain: the leader of Myanmar’s (ie Burma’s) opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi; and also the Tibetans’ exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. On June 19th, in London, the two met.
The rendezvous, not publicised on either of their official schedules, was disclosed by the Dalai Lama’s office on Twitter only the next day, where it was described simply as “a private meeting”. The Dalai Lama, who had previously called for Miss Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest, is reported to have told her “I have real admiration for your courage.” He also gave her his blessing, as one Buddhist to another. The obvious backdrop to any such blessing would be the separate political struggles of Myanmar and Tibet. The two places have a certain neighbour in common.
China’s leaders will not be happy to learn of the meeting. The Dalai Lama’s ten-day visit to Britain has given fresh occasion for China to denounce him. In a further measure, the Chinese Olympic committee threatened to withdraw some of its athletes from training in England. The Dalai Lama shrugged off all this as “routine”. He is as accustomed to acting as a hate figure for the Chinese government as he is to being a symbol of hope to many people elsewhere.
Myanmar has also vexed China, its most involved economic partner, of late. Last year its president, Thein Sein, suspended a hydropower dam being built with Chinese backing in northern Myanmar. Reforms that have been initiated by his once perfectly authoritarian government—such as those that enabled Miss Suu Kyi to win a parliamentary seat in April—have been seen in part as an attempt to build better relations with other countries, that Myanmar should not remain so reliant on China’s good graces.
One danger for Miss Suu Kyi is that she could develop hate-figure status with the Chinese government. It would surely hurt her movement if she were to join the Dalai Lama in China’s official view as a “jackal in monk’s clothing” (or a jackal in a htamain, as it were). As her role evolves from dissident to politician, she will have to deal with politicians in Beijing. A meeting with the Dalai Lama does nothing to nurture their trust in her, and could frustrate the sort of progress that her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), pursues in Myanmar.
That the two met in London may also strain Britain’s already tense relations with China. When David Cameron met the Dalai Lama last month, the Chinese government rebuked Britain and called off a senior official’s visit.
On the evening of June 19th, Miss Suu Kyi celebrated her 67th birthday at a private garden party in Oxford, her old university and former home. Her return to Britain—by way of Oslo, where she collected the Nobel peace prize that was awarded her in 1991, when she was under house arrest—is part of her second trip outside Myanmar in the past 24 years. (She visited Thailand last week.) In 1988, when she had returned to Yangon (then Rangoon) from Britain to care for her ailing mother, she was caught up in pro-democracy demonstrations. At the time and ever since she chose at great personal sacrifice not to leave Myanmar, for fear that she would not be allowed back.
Her audience with the Dalai Lama is the product of unusual circumstance. She was long not at liberty to leave her home in Yangon; he was forced to flee his in Lhasa. She is working to steer her country in a new direction, while he can do little to influence Tibet’s fate. Both must hope that China’s displeasure at their meeting will not impede the work that Miss Suu Kyi has ahead of her back home.
Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi met in London
London: Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama says he has held talks with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in London.
In a message posted to his website on Wednesday, the Dalai Lama said the two Nobel laureates had met privately on Tuesday for around 30 minutes.
He said he had told Suu Kyi he had “real admiration for your courage” and that he believed she would be of “great service to humanity.”