A California university’s decision to have the Dalai Lama speak at this year’s commencement ceremony has sparked uproar among Chinese students who see the choice as an affront.
The University of California San Diego (UCSD) said it extended the invite to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader in a bid to promote his message of “global responsibility and service to humanity.”
However the San Diego chapter of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association and other groups have objected, denouncing the 81-year-old Nobel laureate as a separatist leader intent on dividing China.
“The Dalai Lama is not simply a religious person, but also a political exile who has long been engaged in splitting the motherland and destroying national unity,” the student association said in a statement.
In an op-ed for the school newspaper, The Guardian, Ruixuan Wang said the main reason Chinese students are upset “is that our university shows little consideration about cultural respect, as he is a politically sensitive person in China.”
He added that many parents will be flying in from China to attend their children’s graduation in June and the Dalai Lama’s presence “will ruin our joy.”
“What we want to say is that objectively, he will be an excellent speaker for the commencement,” Wang wrote.
“Nonetheless, culturally speaking, his selection to be a presenter is inappropriate in such a situation, considering how many Chinese students and their families are going to attend this commencement.”
The university said in a statement that it stood by its decision and there was no indication it planned to rescind the invite.
“The University of California San Diego has always served as a forum for discussion and interaction on important public policy issues and respects the rights of individuals to agree or disagree as we consider issues of our complex world,” the statement said.
“As a public university dedicated to the civil exchange of views, the university believes commencement is one of many events that provide an appropriate opportunity to present to graduates and their families a message of reflection and compassion,” it added.
The Dalai Lama — who heads the main branch of Tibetan Buddhism — has been a thorn in the side of Beijing.
The spiritual leader, who has lived in exile in the north Indian town of Dharamsala since a failed 1959 uprising, has for decades called for more Tibetan autonomy rather than independence.
Chinese authorities maintain he is a “separatist” seeking to split Tibet from the rest of the country.