With China being the world’s second-largest economy and military power, the Dalai Lama’s influence on world affairs has significantly weakened. Although nations frequently interact with him to send a message to China, such actions still amount to mere showy gestures.
Since 1959, when he fled to India after the Tibetan uprising was put down, the Dalai Lama has been a thorn in China’s side. The Dalai Lama is still the Communist Party of China’s go-to whipping boy, and he has been variously characterized as a splittist, a renegade, and a saboteur opposed to Tibet’s progress. Despite being, at best, a toothless tiger, he continues to be a potent symbol of Tibetan resistance.
It has been customary for nations that want to express their displeasure with China to invite the Tibetan leader to visit their nation and, depending on the level of annoyance, organize a meeting with the president or prime minister. When he met the Dalai Lama in the Polish city of Gdansk in December 2008, French President Nikolas Sarkozy did that, which sparked a furious reaction from China. China was enraged by the Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan in 1997, where he was treated like a head of state. Naturally, they had a meeting in Taipei. Beijing was enraged by this. The Chinese foreign ministry charged him with exploiting Buddhism as a cover to stoke Chinese nationalism. In 2009, the Dalai Lama paid a second visit to Taiwan, angering Beijing once more.
But they are really token actions, and no country is currently willing to go beyond making firm declarations to China, a major world power. The rest of the world, including the US, has limited power to ensure that Tibetans have access to religious freedom and that their rights are upheld. Beyond making statements, no one can prevent the Chinese government from bringing in Han Chinese settlers in Tibet. China dislikes foreign meddling in its internal affairs, especially given that the majority of countries adhere to the One China Policy.