McCain meets Dalai Lama, calls on China to release prisoners |

McCain meets Dalai Lama, calls on China to release prisoners

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, talks with reporters during a news conference with the Dalai Lama as he arrives in Aspen, Colo., Friday, July 25, 2008. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

ASPEN ” U.S. Sen. John McCain paused in his ongoing run for the presidency on Friday to trade a few pleasantries in Aspen with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and to urge China to release Tibetan political prisoners and improve its record in human rights.

The Dalai Lama, in turn, praised McCain’s “genuine concern about the democracy and human right and religious freedom and environment issue in China in general and in particular in Tibet’s case.”

The two landed separately at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, the Dalai Lama about an hour prior to McCain, and then met privately at a home on Lake Avenue in the West End neighborhood for approximately an hour. They then made a few statements to reporters.

A small contingent of protesters appeared at the airport, waving signs about ending the war in Iraq and other national issues as the McCain motorcade of about a half a dozen vehicles drove away from a private tarmac and onto Highway 82.

After meeting with the Dalai Lama, McCain’s motorcade returned to the airport to fly the candidate out and get him to a 5:30 p.m. speech to Hispanic military veterans in Denver.

The Dalai Lama, meanwhile, participated in a panel discussion at The Aspen Institute’s Greenwald Pavillion.

At the meeting, McCain said the Dalai Lama “represents the profound desire of millions of Tibetan people for basic dignity and human rights. His nonviolence approach, his lifelong work of seeking common ground across cultural and religious divides are an inspiration to all mankind.”

McCain said he has been disappointed by China’s public accusations that the Dalai Lama was behind recent protests in Tibet against Chinese rule (China invaded Tibet in the 1950s, driving the Dalai Lama into exile in India, and have ruled the small nation ever since).

“Such rhetoric doesn’t serve the cause of peaceful change and reconciliation,” McCain said. “I urge the Chinese leaders engage in talks … with His Holiness’ representatives in addressing the just grievances of the Tibetan people, and I urge the Chinese government to release Tibetan political prisoners, account for Tibetans who have disappeared since the protest in March, and engage in meaningful dialogue in genuine autonomy for Tibet.”

While the U.S. welcomes good relations with China, McCain said, “it does no service to the Chinese government, and certainly no service to the people of China, for the United States and other democracies to pretend that the suppression of rights in China does not concern us. It does, will and must concern us.”

The Dalai Lama, speaking after McCain, said his “basic commitment is promotion of human value. That means human compassion, human affection. It is, I believe, the biological factor. We need that. This body come from mother, and mother’s affection, mother’s compassion is, I think, the most important experience in our life.”

His other missions are to promote “secular ethics” and to encourage “religious harmony,” he said, as well as to proclaim to the world about the repression of the Tibetan people and culture.

But, he said, “this time, my visit is not political.”

Security was tight at the airport Friday afternoon, with an unknown number of agents of the Secret Service and U.S. State Department security forces keeping a low but unavoidable profile and leaving it to local law enforcement to erect barricades and keep the public at a distance. And while McCain did not pause for any public statements or photos on arrival, he did so just before his plan lifted off at approximately 3:45 p.m., according to Sheriff Bob Braudis.

The block where the Lake Street home was located also was barricaded from all public access other than residents of neighboring homes. One woman, unaware of the cause of all the commotion, approached two Aspen police officers at the barrier and asked plaintively, “Why have you blocked the road?”

After an officer explained, “We’ll just be here temporarily; there’s a private function going on here, and we’ll be gone as soon as it’s over,” the woman walked away shaking her head.

Others, however, knew what was happening and came hoping for a glimpse of McCain, the Dalai Lama, or both men together. They were disappointed, for neither man made any appearance discernible to the people standing a block away in either direction.

Aspen community safety officer Bobby Schafer, who was manning one of the barricades, said the blockades went up only minutes before the two leaders arrived and would be removed as soon as the meeting ended.

Ted Koustoubos, who was one who came to look, said of himself and his companion, Cindy Whelan, “We’re Republicans, we’re just not very vocal.” They said they had not heard about the meeting until they read about it in that morning’s newspapers.

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