Yesterday, the city of Milan made the controversial move of giving in to China’s demands: Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet was denied honorary citizenship in the northern Italian city due to concerns about jeopardizing relations with China, La Repubblica reported Thursday.
Considered a separatist leader by the authorities in Beijing, the Chinese ambassador to Italy as well as a large local Chinese community warned Milan that if honorary citizenship had been bestowed upon the Dalai Lama, relations would be severed for the next three years. They warned, this would also affect the 2015 International Exposition.
The first Expo was held in London in 1851 and was such a success that other nations were encouraged to organize similar events like the Paris Expo in 1889, for which the Eiffel Tower was designed and built. The event is intended to be a place of exchange and encounter, where attendees are presented with “collective challenges to which mankind is asked to respond,” according the the Expo’s website. Milan’s 2015 Expo’s theme is “Feeding the Planet. Energy for Life,” and is set to create a potential benefit of 4.8 billion Euros.
Milan’s mayor, Giuliano Pisapia, was contacted by Kalsang Dolker, president of the Tibetan community in Italy. Kalsang admonished, “if the junta backs away and does not give honorary citizenship to the Dalai Lama, Milan and all Italy will be covered in shame.” The Milanese mayor said he still plans to welcome the 76 year-old Dalai Lama to Milan’s city hall, Palazzo Marino, where he will be invited to talk. However, His Holiness’ honorary citizenship has been effectively reneged.
The Italian cities of Bologna, Torino, Venice and Rome have already conferred the honorary title to the Dalai Lama. In light of Milan’s unpopular move, other cities have stepped up to compensate for the embarrassment: Assago, a town in the province of Milan, as well as Matera, a city in southern Italy, said they’d be glad to offer the Dalai Lama honorary citizenship.
Dealing with the Dalai Lama and China has been a sticky matter for nations worldwide. In an article previously published on the East Asia Gazette, it was mentioned that in July 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama received the Dalai Lama at the White House. He expressed his support of the battle for human rights in Tibet, but to not harm Sino-U.S. relations too much, he confirmed the U.S.’s view that Tibet is part of China.
In the UK, after Prime Minister David Cameron met with the Dalai Lama in May, China canceled a scheduled visit to Britain by one of its top officials the LA Times reports.
Italy is currently facing a severe financial crisis; a Chinese economic embargo at this time would be very damaging. Tempi writes that if China continues to push its weight around by telling sovereign countries what to do, Italy will lose its independence. More than an economic attack, this is an attack on freedom itself. In a brief interview, Tempi quotes Kalsang, “China is not powerful: it thinks it is, but instead, it is a country that is afraid of the truth, that impedes information flow inside and outside of the country and that perpetually hides facts – it is not a superpower. … It cannot become great like a democratic and liberal country.”
Pietro Tatarella, a Milanese council member said “Today, I am ashamed to be a representative of a council and a city that are scared.” But 4.8 billion Euro is no small amount, and Pisapia's fear may be justified if one considers that severing relations with China could devastate the Italian economy, and by extension, the Eurozone.