US President Barack Obama warmly acknowledged the Dalai Lama on Thursday, but did not meet him directly at a religious event in Washington closely watched by China, which has warned against any exchange with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.
Obama and the Dalai Lama were both at an annual prayer breakfast where Obama spoke about the importance of religious freedom.
Obama greeted the Buddhist monk with a bow-like gesture and called him “a good friend” and “a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion and who inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings.”
The Dalai Lama was in the audience at a table in the front row across from the president, along with senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, a signal of White House support.
Obama nodded and smiled at the Dalai Lama, waving after clasping his hands to greet the spiritual leader as the event began.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when asked about the event, repeated its opposition to any country “using the Tibet issue to interfere in China’s domestic affairs,” but did not directly condemn Obama, likely because there was no face-to-face meeting.
“The Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long waved the flag of religion to engage in anti-China separatist activities,” ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) told a daily news briefing.
The Dalai Lama has said he wants autonomy for Tibet and does not advocate violence.
The Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency took a strong line.
“Chumming with a secessionist is playing with fire,” it said.
Obama and the Dalai Lama are both Nobel Peace Prize laureates and have met three times.
At the event, Obama echoed some of the religious leader’s teachings, calling for religious tolerance and noting that too often, faith is twisted to justify violence.
“We see faith driving us to do right, but we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon,” he said, citing recent attacks in Pakistan and Paris.
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