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Dalai Lama: Blackballed from Thailand

The Dalai Lama can barely get into the White House. Forget SE Asia.

The Thai foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, has indirectly acknowledged that a Dalai Lama invite would be an unwarranted insult to China.

Last year, he drew an oddly flattering parallel between the Dalai Lama and the fugitive billionaire and ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is sought for arrest by the Thai government. Thaksin is currently hopping the globe while organizing a movement to oust the ruling party.

Other countries shouldn’t shelter Thaksin, Kasit said, just as Thailand shouldn’t allow the Dalai Lama to criticize China from Thai soil.

Are there any Asian countries the Dalai Lama can still visit?

A few. The Dalai Lama’s office is based in India, which borders Tibet and openly resents Chinese encroachment into its backyard. He is sometimes allowed to speak in Japan, though officials typically keep their distance. He is also occasionally granted access to Taiwan, China’s bitter enemy, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

But a review of the Dalai Lama’s travel schedule through the last two decades shows only two Southeast Asia visits: the 1993 Thailand visit and a 1992 trip to Indonesia.

The region is now too beholden to Chinese trade and aid to risk a Dalai Lama invite, said Kevin Hewison, director of the Carolina Asia Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“The U.S. being tied up in the Middle East left a void that China has intentionally filled,” Hewison said. “China’s trade, investment and aid in Southeast Asia has made it the most important player in the region now.”

These relationships are mostly business-driven and require few diplomatic concessions. “But there are some things you can’t do,” he said. “You can’t support Taiwan. And you can’t push independence for Tibet. It’s self-censorship.”