US President Barack Obama was to host the Dalai Lama yesterday at the White House over the stern objection of China, which warned the meeting would “inflict grave damages” on the US’ relationship with the Asian powerhouse.
Obama was to greet the Tibetan spiritual leader and fellow Nobel laureate, who is in the US on a speaking tour. The White House did not announce the meeting until late Thursday, prompting a gruff complaint from Beijing in what has become something of a diplomatic ritual whenever Obama meets with the exiled Buddhist monk.
Urging Obama to cancel the meeting, Beijing accused the US president of letting the Dalai Lama use the White House as a podium to promote anti-Chinese activities.
“The US leader’s planned meeting with Dalai is a gross interference in China’s domestic politics,” said Hua Chunying (華春瑩), a spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “It is a severe violation of the principles of international relations. It will inflict grave damages upon the China-US relationship.”
Beijing routinely protests when world leaders grant an audience to the Dalai Lama, including when Obama met with him in 2010 and again in 2011. Chinese officials denounce the Dalai Lama as a separatist responsible for instigating self-immolations by Tibetans inside China, but he is widely respected around the world for his advocacy of peace and tolerance.
Obama was to host the Dalai Lama in the White House’s Map Room, rather than the Oval Office, where the president traditionally brings a visiting leader for a round of photographs. The private meeting, closed to reporters, suggested an attempt to avoid the appearance of a formal meeting between two heads of state.
The US had no immediate response to the rebuke from China.
However, in announcing the meeting earlier on Thursday, the White House said Obama was meeting with the Dalai Lama in his capacity as a cultural and religious leader.
As if to indicate an overreaction had been expected, officials reiterated that the US recognizes Tibet as part of China and does not support Tibetan independence.
“The United States supports the Dalai Lama’s ‘Middle Way’ approach of neither assimilation nor independence for Tibetans in China,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council.
She added that presidents of both parties have met with the Dalai Lama for decades.
At the same time, officials said they were concerned about tensions and deteriorating human rights in China’s Tibetan areas, urging Beijing to resume talks with the Dalai Lama or his followers without preconditions.