Human Rights Watch released a letter to Korean President Kim Dae Jung, urging him to resist Chinese government pressure to prevent a visit to Korea by the Dalai Lama.

A group of private Korean citizens, organized as the "Preparation Committee for the Dalai Lama's Visit," invited the exiled leader of Tibet and Nobel laureate to visit in November. The proposed visit would follow closely a visit by Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, who arrives in Seoul in late October for the third biannual Asia-Europe (ASEM) meeting.

However, in September, after the Chinese embassy in Seoul reportedly expressed strong displeasure with the proposed visit, a representative of the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade met with Preparation Committee members, insisting that they postpone their invitation to the Tibetan leader until 2001. In March, a Buddhist student organization at Seoul National University seeking to meet with the Dalai Lama reportedly was also told by a foreign ministry official that the ministry would not allow the Dalai Lama to come.

The letter from Human Rights Watch emphasized Kim Dae-Jung's "well-deserved reputation" for defense of human rights and called on him to ensure that political considerations not take precedence over private citizens' rights. "[G]overnment interference with the visit would constitute a significant step backward for your administration and for Korea," the letter concluded.

Human Rights Watch noted that Japan recently refused to give in to similar Chinese government pressure. Prior to the Dalai Lama's visit to Japan in April, Chinese authorities reportedly threatened that bilateral relations between the two countries would suffer if the visit took place. Japan held firm and the visit went ahead.

Korea has already refused to allow a visit during the upcoming ASEM meeting by Wang Dan, a prominent student leader in Beijing in 1989. He had planned to join Korean human rights groups in a protest rally during the meetings.