China threat over Lama

Hamish Heard
China yesterday threatened Geelong after councillors forced Mayor Peter McMullin to offer the Dalai Lama a civic reception.
A spokesman for the Chinese Consulate said any official welcome “would be harmful to existing good relations” between Australia and China.
“Certainly (the Dalai Lama’s) welcome at an official occasion will be harmful to the relationship between Geelong and certain local governments in China and, indeed, the two countries,” he said.
At a meeting this week, Mayor Peter McMullin wanted council to approve his offer to the Lama of free stadium use without a formal civic reception.
But Cr Shane Dowling won support to amend Cr McMullin’s motion with an additional offer of “the same opportunity of welcome as afforded to (the Lama) in 2002”.
The 2002 welcome featured a civic reception despite Chinese threats of economic sanctions. Councillors confirmed this week’s vote was for a civic reception offer.
But the consulate spokesman said the Chinese Government would take “great offence” at any “official” welcome.
“He’s not simply a religious figure,” the spokesman said.
“He has been engaged in separatist political efforts to separate Tibet from mainland China and we deem his welcome will be harmful to the existing good relations between the two countries.”
Cr McMullin yesterday would not say whether he believed that the planned welcome constituted a civic reception.
“What is a civic reception,” he said.
“Council is pleased to welcome His Holiness and if his schedule allows it we will be delighted to host a lunch for him.”
Cr McMullin warned that debate over council’s welcome was jeopardising the Dalai Lama’s visit.
“I’d call on everybody in Geelong to note that the Dalai Lama is a much-revered figure,” he said.
“Playing games with his name is very dangerous.”
The Independent revealed two weeks ago that the mayor had no plans to offer a civic reception to the Tibetan spiritual leader.
Councillors and Buddhist leaders believed Cr McMullin’s attempts to forge Chinese business links and his friendship with Chinese-born Melbourne Lord Mayor John So were behind the snub.
Cr Kontelj said the mayor had been evasive whenever councillors quizzed him on whether he was planning a civic reception.
“It just wasn’t clear because (the mayor) kept skirting around the issue with words,” Cr Kontelj said.