US President Barack Obama held a White House meeting on Saturday with the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, hours after China called on the US to rescind an invitation that could sour relations with Beijing.
The Tibetan spiritual leader has been in Washington for an 11-day Buddhist ritual. Thousands of expatriate Tibetans joined a 76th birthday celebration on Wednesday for the Dalai Lama, who recently relinquished leadership of Tibet’s government-in-exile.
The White House said that during the 45-minute private session in the Map Room, Obama “underscored the importance of the protection of human rights of Tibetans in China.” In a statement issued after the meeting, the White House also said Obama reiterated his support for the preservation of Tibet’s religious, cultural and linguistic traditions.
“He underscored the importance of the protection of human rights of Tibetans in China. The president commended the Dalai Lama’s commitment to nonviolence and dialogue with China,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Obama restated US policy that it does not support Tibetan independence, a goal that the Dalai Lama said he also does not seek.
In a nod to the criticism from Beijing, Obama also stressed to the Dalai Lama that he considers a cooperative relationship between the US and China to be important, according to the White House statement.
In remarks after the meeting forwarded by Kate Saunders from the International Campaign for Tibet, the Dalai Lama said of his visit with Obama: “Firstly, we developed a very close sort of feeling for each other.”
The Dalai Lama added that he felt a “spirit of reunion” with Obama, according to Saunders
He said Obama expressed his concern over basic human values, such as human rights and religious freedoms, “so naturally, he shows genuine concern about suffering in Tibet and other places.”
A Chinese crackdown led the Dalai Lama to flee into exile in India in 1959. China says he is welcome to return if he drops his separatist activities, accepts Tibet as an inalienable part of China and recognizes Taiwan as a province of China.
As expected, the Chinese reaction was strident, coming in the form of a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement hours after the meeting.
“Such an act has grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and damaged Sino-American relations,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ma Zhaoxu (馬朝旭) said in the statement.
“We demand the US side seriously consider China’s stance, immediately adopt measures to wipe out the baneful impact, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and cease to connive and support anti-China separatist forces that seek ‘Tibetan independence,’” Ma said.
Obama had been criticized by pro-Tibetan activists for putting off an invitation during the Dalai Lama’s stay in the capital. White House officials said the president’s schedule had been occupied with debt-limit negotiations with US congressional leaders.
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