If we're really, really going to be honest, we might as well be brief

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

The Dalai Lama is coming to Dunedin. In an ideal world, I'd be happy to spend a couple of hours going to hear what he has to say ... although I'm not (or, rather, no longer) religiously inclined, I think he's a guy who has "walked his talk" for long enough to deserve that. Plus by all accounts he's a pretty good and engaging speaker, so I don't think it'd be a total waste of time.

However, it isn't an ideal world in that I've a couple of pre-school kids and Tuesday is my day with them. And the Dalai Lama is going to be speaking down here on a Tuesday. So I won't be there to hear him.

And nor, apparently, will Dunedin's mayor, Dave Cull. According to today's Otago Daily Times;

Mr Cull had declined an invitation by tour organisers to introduce the Dalai Lama at a public talk in the Dunedin Town Hall, before up to 2000 people, on June 11.

There were also no plans to stage a civic reception for the Dalai Lama, Mr Cull said yesterday.

Well, I guess the city's mayor can't turn up to everything that happens in the city. And he can't meet with everyone that comes to visit it. But why exactly did Dave Cull decide that he'd play no part in the Dalai Lama's visit to this city?

He defended both decisions, describing the Nobel Peace Prize laureate as ''a representative of a minority religious faith'' and questioning the benefit of engaging with him.


Mr Cull told the Otago Daily Times he understood the invitation had been ''on hold'' until his own itinerary was clear, but appeared to have been made by his staff while he was in China.

''My understanding is I will be out of town - something in Wellington, I'll probably be at. Some meeting. I can't remember.''

Asked if he would have attended if available, Mr Cull said that was ''hypothetical'' and he was ''not going to go there''.

What Dave Cull was very clear about, however, was that "China's views on the visit to Dunedin had [not] swayed his thinking." Or, he was sort of clear about this. Because later in the article he is quoted as saying;

[I]t was important to recognise China's ''sensitivities'', [Cull] said.

''I'm quite conscious of the Chinese sensitivity around anyone meeting the Dalai Lama, or engaging with him.

''China has a clear view that ... it's a unified country, and Tibet's part of it.''

However, note that this "sensitivity" didn't impact on Dave Cull's decision whether or not to meet with the Dalai Lama. Oh no - not at all. It's just he had some meeting in Wellington that day. He thinks. He can't remember.

Because, after all, the Dalai Lama is nothing more than "a representative of a minority religious faith". One who has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal - awarded to him in person by President Obama. As well as honoury citizenship of the cities of Warsaw, Paris, Rome and Venice. And honoury citizenship of Canada.

(Actually, rather than recount them individually, just take a look at this list of the honours he has received since 2000.)

And remember also that Dunedin is such a hub of international affairs that people with this sort of international standing are passing through it on a weekly, if not daily, basis. So it's no surprise that when the mayor has "something in Wellington" he probaby will be at (he thinks), he has to skip meeting with some of them. Even if not with others.

So let's cut the crap and just say it like it is - if it weren't for the fear that the Chinese would get their noses out of joint, Dave Cull would be all over the visit of an individual with this international profile like a local politician seeking the limelight. Imagine, for example that Wangari Muta Maathai or Shirin Ebadi were speaking in Dunedin and Dave Cull was asked to introduce them. You think "something in Wellington" would get in the way of that?

Which raises a valid (as opposed to xenophobic fear-of-the-yellow-peril) question. Just how much are we prepared to pay for the pot of gold that access to Chinese consumers represents?