CANBERRA, Australia – Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Monday that she did not yet plan to meet with the Dalai Lama when he visits Australia next month, but acknowledged that the nation expected her to receive the revered Tibetan spiritual leader.
Previous Australian government leaders have riled the nation's most important trading partner, China, by holding unofficial meetings with the Dalai Lama during his past visits.
Gillard told Parliament that such private meetings have been "very much a reflection of Australian community expectations."
"At this stage, I do not have a meeting scheduled with the Dalai Lama," she said. "Any such decision will be taken closer to the time."
Gillard was responding to a question from an independent lawmaker on whether she would meet the 75-year-old Buddhist monk in his capacity as "spiritual leader and representative of millions of Tibetans."
The Dalai Lama's visit to Australia from June 9 to 20 ends only days before Gillard's first anniversary as government leader.
Gillard was Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's deputy when the Dalai Lama last came to Australia in 2008. Both Rudd and Gillard were then overseas, so the exiled Nobel Peace Prize winner met Sen. Chris Evans as the center-left government's third highest ranking lawmaker and acting prime minister.
That low-key meeting brought a rebuke from Beijing, which regards the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist who wants Tibet to split from China.
Conservative Prime Minister John Howard was the last Australian leader to meet Tibetan Buddhism's highest spiritual authority, in 2007 during a 20-minute chat in Howard's Sydney office.
Rudd, now foreign minister, told Parliament on Monday that Australian exports to China such as iron ore, coal and gas have doubled since 2007 and will continue to grow.
The Dalai Lama recently turned over his political authority over Tibetans, but remains their spiritual leader.