The Dalai Lama wrapped up a four-day visit to Mongolia on Wednesday in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of a nation with long cultural and religious ties to Tibet. Ahead of the trip, China’s foreign ministry characteristically warned of the possible “negative effects” that hosting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader could have on diplomatic relations, similar to warnings given before the Dalai Lama’s previous visits. China has temporarily made good on those promises to Mongolia after stops by the Dalai Lama: in 2002 China briefly closed its border with Mongolia, and in 2006, China canceled direct flights from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar. Last week, Tibetan Buddhist authorities in Mongolia billed the Dalai Lama’s visit as “purely religious.” As the trip was beginning last Saturday, the AP echoed that claim, and provided context on the Tibet-Mongolia religious relationship and contemporary relations between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar:
The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, addressed followers at the Gandantegchinlen monastery in Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital, and spoke about materialism at the beginning of a four-day visit. Mongolia has said the visit will be purely religious in nature and will not include meetings with officials.
[…] China views the Dalai Lama as a separatist seeking to split Tibet from China and strongly objects to any visit by the monk to other countries. The Dalai Lama has been based in India since fleeing Tibet during an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
[…] Mongolian leaders are seeking a $4.2 billion loan from Beijing to pull the country out of a deep recession. With commodity prices slumping, Mongolia is running out of hard currency to repay foreign debts and is seeking help from a neighbor that accounts for about 90 percent of its exports.
Mongolian Buddhism is closely tied to Tibet’s strain, and many in Mongolia, a heavily Buddhist country, revere the Dalai Lama, who made his first visit in 1979. […] [Source]
Following the foreign ministry’s standard comments on the visit, which highlighted Beijing’s view of the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist despite the exiled Tibetan’s decades of advocating for genuine autonomy within China, state-run tabloid Global Times cited a trade expert who qualified that warning with some economic realism:
“The Dalai Lama’s visit to Mongolia will certainly hurt the interactive relation that China and Mongolia have built through the Belt and Road initiative,” Da Zhigang, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian studies at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
[…] Da said it was unacceptable to describe the visit as “purely religious” given the Dalai’s consistent stance and activities to split China.
[…] Da also noted that bilateral cooperation between China and Mongolia would continue, including the loan and the construction of a China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor, the first multilateral trade cooperation mechanism under the Belt and Road initiative.
“China is unlikely to take economic sanctions as the country needs to maintain sound ties with Mongolia, which holds a good relationship with the US, North Korea and Japan, playing an important role in the Northeast Asia,” Da said. [Source]
The Dalai Lama’s itinerary in Mongolia does reinforce the reportedly “purely religious” nature of the trip. He met with monastic and Buddhist congregations over his first three days in Mongolia, and attended a conference on Buddhism and science. Just prior to departing the Mongolian capital for Japan, the Dalai Lama addressed members of the press, where he was given a political question. While Beijing struggles to make sense of Donald Trump’s victory in the recent U.S. presidential election (and its potential implications on a U.S.-led global order), the Dalai Lama confidently stated his lack of anxiety over an upcoming Trump presidency, and announced plans to meet with him after his inauguration. At The Washington Post, Derek Hawkins reports:
Long reticent about Donald Trump, the Dalai Lama on Wednesday made his most revealing remarks yet about the president-elect, saying he has “no worries” about Trump occupying the Oval Office. During a four-day visit to Mongolia, he told reporters he was not concerned about statements Trump made on the campaign trail and expected him to be more restrained in office, the Associated Press reported.
“I feel during the election, the candidate has more freedom to express. Now once they are elected, having the responsibility, then they have to carry their cooperation, their work, according to reality,” the Dalai Lama said. “So I have no worries.”
Beijing regularly protests foreign leaders’ meetings with the Dalai Lama, but no nation gets more diplomatic wrath from Beijing over interaction with him than the U.S. President Barack Obama met with the exiled Tibetan one-on-one four times during his tenure, each time in low-key settings to mitigate the diplomatic fallout that could follow from Beijing were the Dalai Lama invited into the Oval Office. Last year, President Obama invited the Dalai Lama to the National Prayer Breakfast, which became their first public appearance together.
In 2011, the Dalai Lama handed the political responsibilities historically associated with his role to an elected Sikyong. In 2014, he repeatedly warned he could be the last incarnation of the high lama, an apparent attempt to prevent Beijing from naming his successor. Beijing replied by insisting its “right” to name the 15th Dalai Lama, and has in recent months made moves to politically empower its controversial choice of the Panchen Lama, the second highest ranking cleric in the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism.