NZ snubs China over Tibet

WELLINGTON: New Zealand has handed China a fresh snub over Tibet, even as the two nations celebrated 30 years of formal diplomatic ties.

Foreign Minister Phil Goff told Chinese counterpart Tang Jiaxuan he would meet Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama when he visits in May, despite China warning New Zealand he is a political lobbyist working against Beijing's interests.

On past visits, the Dalai Lama has met with lawmakers, despite Chinese protests.

Speaking after two hours of talks with Tang, Goff said he will meet the Dalai Lama, who will also meet with Prime Minister Helen Clark if she is in the country at the time of the visit.

Tang said while New Zealand saw the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader, "we see him as a political exile ... who has been good at lobbying overseas and selling his political schemes for separating the Motherland."

China asks other states not to accord the Dalai Lama recognition by having ministers meet him.

But Goff said the visit would proceed in the same way as previous trips.

"We recognise the Dalai Lama as a spiritual and religious leader rather than as a political leader and his visit will be conducted accordingly," he told reporters.

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to arrive in Wellington on May 27.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 with thousands of supporters after a failed uprising against China. Since then, he has headed a government-in-exile in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his non-violent struggle against Chinese rule.

Goff said Tang raised some concern about continuing Falun Gong protests outside the Chinese consulate in Auckland, but was advised that freedom to protest is fundamental under New Zealand law.

He said the Chinese foreign minister made no request to New Zealand to clamp down on Falun Gong, as he did in Canberra yesterday, describing the movement as "a downright and truly evil sect."