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China pressures Australian press club to cancel Tibetan exile leader’s speech

China is under fire for attempting to prevent the leader of Tibet’s government-in-exile from giving a speech at the Australian National Press Club in Canberra, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Chinese Embassy representatives met with press club chief Maurice Reily last week and voiced their opposition to Penpa Tsering’s scheduled appearance on June 20, requesting that his invitation be revoked.

China has controlled Tibet since it invaded the region in 1949, and rejects any notion of a Tibetan government-in-exile, particularly the legitimacy of the Dalai Lama, who lives in Dharamsala, India. Beijing has also stepped up efforts to erode Tibetan culture, language and religion. 

Speeches given at the National Press Club are broadcast on Australian TV and attended by prominent members of the press, so Beijing may be worried about the wider exposure Penpa Tsering would get..

“China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to Australia, in disregard of China’s position and concern, allowing him to use the NPC platform to engage in separatist activities,” the newspaper quoted a letter from the embassy to Reily as saying.

“The Chinese side urges the Australian side to see through the nature of the Dalai clique, respect China’s core interests and major concerns, and take concrete actions to remove the negative effects so as to prevent the disruption of the sound development of China-Australia relations and media co-operation.”

Free Speech

Despite Beijing’s pressure, Reilly told local media that there were no plans to cancel the appearance, and tickets remain on sale on the website of the press club. 

He said he told the Chinese Embassy officials that the press club was “an institution for free speech, free media and public debate.”

The National Press Club is a stage where everyone is allowed to share their views, Kyinzom Dhongdue, a human rights activist and a former member of the Tibetan parliament in exile, told Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan Service.

“We all know how China has worked to build its influence and dependence through trade and economic ties with Australia,” she said. “In the last decade we have seen Australia’s top educational institution cancel a talk by the Dalai Lama, apparently due to pressure from China. But this time, putting pressure on the National Press Club is unimaginable because the National Press Club stands for Freedom of Speech.”

Karma Singey, the representative for the Dalai Lama in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia, said Australia would not cave to Chinese influence.

“Australia is a democratic country so we are confident that Australia will not let the Chinese government expand its influence and undermine Australian institutions,” he said.

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.