Obama-Dalai Lama meeting: China gets a ‘brush-off’

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By Arun Kumar
Washington, Feb 22 (IANS)
As President Barack Obama met the Dalai Lama ignoring usual Chinese objections, White House portrayed it as in keeping with past practice and in no way detracting from Washington’s ties with Beijing.

In fact, Obama and the visiting Tibetan spiritual leader “agreed on the importance of a positive and constructive US -China relationship,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday.

Obama had earlier met the Dalai Lama in February 2010 and July 2011 and presidents of both Democratic and Republican parties have done so since 1991, he said. Each time China has responded to those meetings with angry comments about how they would “inflict grave damages” on the relationship between Washington and Beijing.

“And of course, we are committed to a constructive relationship with China in which we work together to solve regional and global problems,” Carney said.

In an apparent small concession to China, Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama was held in the Map Room of the White House rather than Obama’s Oval office, where he usually receives visiting leaders.

Obama’s meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader and fellow Nobel laureate, who is in the US on a speaking tour, was closed to photographers, and, unlike during some previous visits, the Dalai Lama departed the White House without speaking to reporters.

But this too had nothing to do with Chinese objections, Carney suggested saying “the meeting the President had today in the Dalai Lama’s capacity as a religious and cultural leader was in keeping with past practice.”

Asked if the White House gave advance notice to China, Carney did not “have a specific readout” but said “I can tell you that we’re in conversations with the Chinese at a variety of levels on a whole panoply of subjects.”

In response to another question, the official said: “The United States supports the Dalai Lama’s ‘middle way’ approach of neither assimilation, nor independence for Tibetans in China.”

The US, he said “recognizes Tibet to be a part of the People’s Republic of China and we do not support Tibetan independence.”

At the same time “the US strongly supports human rights and religious freedom in China,” he said expressing concern “about continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China.”

“We will continue to urge the Chinese government to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives without preconditions as a means to reduce tensions,” he said.

“So that’s our view, and that view reflects our concern about continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China.”

At the State Department, spokesperson Marie Harf made similar points saying “there’s no change in US policy” and it “continued to urge the Chinese Government to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama or with his representatives without preconditions.”

The influential New York Times suggested that the US had brushed “Off Chinese Rebuke as Obama Meets With Dalai Lama.”

“In contrast to previous meetings, the White House seemed unruffled by the diplomatic repercussions of the visit by the Tibetan spiritual leader, which comes as the United States is taking a firmer line with China on a range of territorial disputes with its neighbours,” it said.

Earlier Friday, China urged Obama to cancel the meeting with the Dalai Lama calling it a “gross interference in the internal affairs of China.”

“It will seriously violate norms governing international relations and severely impair China-US relations,” said Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry in Beijing.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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