The Dalai Lama was in London on Monday and met his old friend (and Spectator contributor) Jonathan Mirsky. Time was when he could expect to see the British Prime Minister too – but Beijing was furious that David Cameron met him three years ago and outrageously demanded that the Prime Minister apologise for it. Cameron did what Beijing wanted. He said in public that he had ‘no plans’ to meet the Dalai Lama again. Such was his hunger for Chinese deals, which has been on full inglorious display in George Osborne’s giant kowtow in China this week.
Jonathan has known the Dalai Lama for 35 years, and asked him what he’d have said to David Cameron if No10 had not forced him into the wilderness. His reply was astonishing. ‘Money, money, money. That’s what this is about. Where is morality?’ As ever, his remarks were brief – but incredibly forceful, and we’ve led the magazine on them this week. He’s also exactly right: Cameron has adopted a trade-first foreign policy, which means the shameless pursuit of contracts. In my piece for the magazine, I argue that this has reduced our foreign policy to rather tawdry pursuit of money. And it’s not even effective: academic studies show that trade missions seldom come to any good. Selling out is bad, selling for no money is worse.
The Dalai Lama’s words should haunt Cameron. It is appalling that he has (in effect) ruled out meeting him again to assuage the Communist Party in China: our foreign policy should not be for sale. The Dalai Lama’s intervention is a rare slip: he normally avoids such direct criticism. But China is upping the stakes in the war against him, and exacts ever-tougher penalties on any western leader who gives him the time of day. Academics have identified a ‘Dalai Lama effect’ which shows how China cuts exports to countries who receive him. Beijing uses its trade as a foreign policy tool, and it seems to enjoy having people like George Osborne dancing a jig. This week, the Chancellor even said that Britain will take Chinese civil nuclear plants – em, why? The Chinese are hardly known for their expertise in this area, which is why only countries like Pakistan and Romania have bought their nukes.
The Dalai Lama stresses in the interview that he has no quarrel with the British public. They ‘are a moral people’ he says,
‘greater than the Americans. But what I would say to Mr Cameron and to President Xi is that the Chinese are a great people, they have been so for thousands of years. But they could learn something from the Tibetans, who know there is more to life than material things.’
Once, Britain had a foreign policy that knew there was more to diplomacy than money. Only the Dalai Lama meets a British prime minister again will we know that the UK government has rediscovered this basic point.