The administration of US President George W. Bush has taken pains to keep a private meeting between Bush and the Dalai Lama from further infuriating China: no media access, not even a handout photo.
Little subtlety was expected yesterday, however, when Bush and the US' most powerful lawmakers were due to host a public ceremony in the US Capitol's Rotunda to award the exiled spiritual head of Tibet's Buddhists with Congress' highest civilian honor.
It is a delicate bit of diplomatic balancing. Bush wants to ease anger in China, a growing economic and military powerhouse that the US needs to help manage nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. He also wants to be seen as a champion of religious freedom and human rights.
The Dalai Lama, for his part, seemed unconcerned about China's furious reaction to his half-hour meeting on Tuesday with Bush in the White House and yesterday's presentation of the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal.
"That always happens," he said with a laugh, speaking to reporters gathered outside his downtown Washington hotel.
The White House played down the meeting with Bush in the presidential residence section of the White House and dismissed China's warning that this week's events would damage relations between Washington and Beijing.
China has demanded that the US cancel this week's celebrations. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (
"We are not willing to see damage done to relations between the two countries, but this event will certainly cast a shadow over the relations," the China Daily newspaper said in an editorial.
At the White House, presidential spokesman Tony Fratto said the US understands China's concerns. But he also said Bush always has attended congressional award presentation ceremonies, has met with the Dalai Lama several times before and had no reason not to meet with him again.
No media access was allowed to Bush's meeting on Tuesday with the Dalai Lama. In a change of its typical course, the administration released no photos of the meeting either -- a statement to the sensitivity of the matter.
"We in no way want to stir the pot and make China feel that we are poking a stick in their eye for a country that we have a lot of relationships with on a variety of issues," White House press secretary Dana Perino said. "And this might be one thing that we can do. But I don't believe that that's going to soothe the concerns in China."