SMH [Monday, March 09, 2009 18:50]
Cynthia Banham Diplomatic Editor
THE Chinese ambassador in Canberra has sent a stern letter to an Australian MP, warning him against attending a pro-Tibet protest to be held outside Parliament House today.
The letter, from Zhang Junsai to Michael Danby, tells the Labor MP that the rally, to mark the 50th anniversary of the failed 1959 Tibet uprising, was an act of ” Tibetan independence” groups meant to “tarnish the image of the Chinese Government and impair China-Australia relations”.
“I hope you will give careful consideration to this and refrain from attending the ‘Tibetan independence’ activity on 10 March,” the letter says.
Mr Danby said the heavy-handed letter was the first of its kind that he had received from a Chinese ambassador, and he would not “take instructions from a letter like this”.
“We are free and independent here,” Mr Danby, who is a member of the parliamentary Tibet friendship group, told the Herald. “As the Australian people would expect, no self-respecting MP would respond to a letter like this.”
The Chinese Government is going to great lengths to minimise international exposure of pro-Tibetan protests marking today’s anniversary. Fifty years ago Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled Tibet and remains in exile in northern India.
In his letter, sent late last month, the Chinese ambassador says he recalled “with pleasure” a meeting he had last year with Mr Danby about Tibet, and says the Victorian MP’s attendance at today’s rally would be “inconsistent” with the “understanding that we reached during that meeting”. This was, the ambassador says, that “Tibet is part of China and you do not support ‘Tibetan independence”‘.
“Your attendance will be inconsistent with what you have said and will inevitably be utilised by ‘Tibetan independence’ groups,” the ambassador wrote.
Mr Danby wrote back on Friday: “I also recall our last meeting with pleasure. I am sorry, therefore, that you take exception to my plans to accept an invitation to speak to a group of Tibetans and friends of Tibet in Canberra on 10 March.
“I can assure you that my remarks to this gathering will be in conformity with my long expressed views, which I advised you of at our meeting. These are that I do not support separatism in any region of China and that I do not support violence. I do, however, support genuine autonomy for the people of Tibet, within the People’s Republic of China, similar to the status currently enjoyed by Hong Kong and Macau. This is the view I will expressing to this gathering.”