One of France’s most prestigious higher education institutions has denied claims that it cancelled a conference with the Dalai Lama owing to pressure from China.
Sciences Po, one of Paris’ most elite grandes ecoles, was due to hold a two-hour event with the Tibetan spiritual leader on 13 September during a six-day visit to France.
Chaired by Sciences Po president Frederic Mion and attended by 500 students, the conference was set to include a 30-minute talk by the 81-year-old Dalai Lama, who arrived in France on 12 September.
However, the event was drastically scaled back to a meeting with 30 religious representatives before it was cancelled altogether in late July, with Sciences Po claiming the conference would be “pointless” ("redondant") as the Dalai Lama would meet Paris’ religious community at an event planned elsewhere on the following evening.
The sudden cancellation had led some observers to ask if Sciences Po’s decision had been influenced by China, which took control of Tibet in 1951, and has warned foreign governments from welcoming the exiled Tibetan leader on his overseas trips.
The Dalai Lama will not meet France’s president Francois Hollande or any member of the government on his tour, which will be mostly spent in Strasbourg.
But the reason for its cancellation was described as “very strange” by Robert Barnett, a Tibet expert at New York's Columbia University.
"Of course we don't know the real details behind the decision [of cancelling the planned conference], but the explanation they have given is very strange indeed," he told RFI.
"Especially since they had originally planned to have a two-hour event with 500 students and it was going to be a major event for Sciences Po."