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30 june 2012 004Dharamshala: His Holiness the Dalai Lama recently arrived back in Dharamshala after an extensive fifteen-day visit to Europe which covered Italy, England and Scotland.

While there he met British royalty, European celebrities and another global human rights superstar-Aung San Suu Kyi.Yet relatively minor political leaders, civic provosts and regional city councils either cannot find the ‘time' to meet the spiritual leader or even more bizarrely withdraw their city honours under political pressure. Is this economic subservience to China brought on by political and commercial expediency? Or perhaps it is just moral cowardice, probably all of the above.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond apparently did not have the time to meet the exiled leader and, even more cravenly, the economic powerhouse of Italy, Milan, withdrew its original plan to bestow honorary citizenship on His Holiness under duress, according to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, from the Chinese ambassador and the Italian Foreign Ministry.

The director of Amnesty International in Scotland, Shabnum Mustapha, criticized Salmond for his non-appearance, and silence, and suggests that ‘'Having no one from the Scottish Government meeting the Dalai Lama sends out the wrong signal about Scotland's concerns with human rights abuses in Tibet and China.'' And, moreover, that it was ‘' [a] missed opportunity'' to raise those concerns.

According to the BBC in Scotland, the Chinese consul general met with council leaders before the Dalai Lama's visit and that only last December Alex Salmond had visited Beijing to ‘' strengthen trade, arts and cultural links'' with China.

The Italian case is even more intriguing-and transparently political. Milan city council had already signaled their intention to bestow one of its highest honours to His Holiness-and then withdrew it, the reason? It is better not to upset the Chinese and their growing economic and geo-political power. One dissenting voice was heard, Milan city councilor Pietro Tatarella said: "I am ashamed to be a representative of a council and a city that are scared''.

Much of this is speculation of course. We will probably never know who said what to whom-‘diplomacy' and ‘talks about mutual concerns' happen behind closed doors, and moreover, in these straightened economic times in Europe, trade and commerce, wherever it comes from, often over-rides human rights violations and concerns.

Nevertheless, it would seem to be a sign of growing Chinese economic power and European political acquiescence. China is becoming more successful in leveraging its vast economic power and, in effect, ‘buying' silence.