Ignoring China's protest, Obama hosts Dalai Lama

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Ignoring China's protest, Obama hosts Dalai Lama
DHARAMSALA, INDIA - JULY 20: Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama takes part in prayers at the Tsuglagkhang temple on July 20, 2015 in Dharamsala, India. Eleven Tibetan NGOs based in India and Nepal organized a special long-life prayer for their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. (Photo by Shyam Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - JULY 13: The XIV Dalai Lama attends 80th birthday celebrations at the 'Jahrhunderthalle' on July 13, 2015 in Frankfurt, Germany. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama acknowledges audience members after he spoke at an event entitled: "Happiness, Free Enterprise, and Human Flourishing" Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama gets up to leave after he spoke at an event titled "Happiness, Free Enterprise, and Human Flourishing" at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama speaks at an event titled "Happiness, Free Enterprise, and Human Flourishing" at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama performs a ritual at a prayer meeting during the Festival of Tibet in Gauhati, India, Monday, Feb. 3 2014. The Dalai Lama Sunday inaugurated the five-day festival. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama gives sermons during a five-day festival of Tibet, in Gauhati, India, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, right, presents Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama a Japi, a traditional Assamese hat, during the Festival of Tibet in Gauhati, India, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014. The Dalai Lama inaugurated the five-day festival that began Sunday. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, left, greets devotees upon arrival for a lecture at the Nehru stadium in Gauhati, India, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014. The Dalai Lama inaugurated a five day festival of Tibet in the city(AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama speaks as he inaugurates the Festival of Tibet, a five-day event, in Gauhati, India, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama speaks as he inaugurates the Festival of Tibet, a five day event in Gauhati, India, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama laughs as he delivers the Jangchup Lamrim teachings at the Sera Monastery, Bylakuppe, 135 miles west of Bangalore, India, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. The ten-day teachings ended Friday. (AP Photo/Abhishek N.Chinnappa)
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama greets Sumitra Gandhi Kulkarni, grand-daughter of Mahatma Gandhi during the Jangchup Lamrim teachings at the Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe, 135 miles west of Bangalore, India, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. The ten-day teachings began Dec. 25. (AP Photo/Abhishek N. Chinnappa)
FILE ? In this July 14, 2013 file photo, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama seated in front of the posters of Mahatma Gandhi, right, the Buddha, center, and himself, left, addresses school children after inaugurating an auditorium at a Tibetan school in Gurupura 210 kilometers (131 miles) southwest of Bangalore, India. A spokesman said the Dalai Lama will not attend memorial services for fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela in South Africa, where the Buddhist spiritual leader has twice been unable to obtain a visa. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi, File)
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WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama granted an audience to Tibet's Dalai Lama on Friday over the strong objections from China that the U.S. was meddling it its affairs. The White House took pains to ensure the meeting was not portrayed as a conference of two heads of state.

Obama played host to his fellow Nobel laureate in the White House's Map Room rather than the Oval Office, where the president traditionally brings dignitaries for photos. Beijing decries the Dalai Lama as an anti-Chinese separatist because of his quest for greater Tibetan autonomy. The White House calls him a respected cultural and religious figure who is committed to peace.

Despite media requests, the meeting was closed to journalists, and in a departure from previous visits the Buddhist monk left the White House without speaking to reporters.

Beijing had protested the meeting after the White House announced it Thursday night. A statement from China's Foreign Ministry issued Friday night reiterated its view that no country has a right to interfere in its internal affairs and said the U.S. had "gravely violated basic norms governing the international relations and seriously harmed the Sino-U.S. relations."

In another sign of its displeasure, China summoned Daniel Kritenbrink, the charge d'affaires for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the State Department said. The U.S. had no immediate comment on the development.

Beijing frequently protests meetings with the Dalai Lama, and the dust-ups have become something of a diplomatic ritual for Obama, who faced Beijing's ire when he met with the Tibetan leader in 2010 and again in 2011. In his first year in office, Obama put off a meeting with the monk in what was seen as a move to placate China.

How much does it matter?

"I have severe doubts that the Chinese would proceed to do anything in response or retaliation that would undermine much larger Chinese interests" with the U.S., said Jonathan Pollack, a China scholar at the private Brookings Institution.

In a carefully worded statement after the meeting, the White House said Obama offered his "strong support for the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions" and for human rights protections for Tibetans in China. The statement said Obama "reiterated the U.S. position that Tibet is part of the People's Republic of China and that the United States does not support Tibet independence."

The Dalai Lama told Obama he's not seeking Tibetan independence, and both leaders said they hoped talks would resume between Beijing and the Dalai Lama's representatives.

The Dalai Lama gave up his political role as the leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile in 2011. The White House said Obama supports the Dalai Lama's approach of "neither assimilation nor independence for Tibetans." But Chinese officials denounce him as a separatist responsible for instigating self-immolations inside China.

Although the meeting was unlikely to have a major long-term impact on U.S.-China relations, it could contribute to a "souring mood" between the world's two largest economies, said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Relations between the U.S. and China are already on edge over Beijing's steps to assert itself in the region. China has bristled at recent U.S. comments critical of its actions in territorial disputes with its smaller neighbors.

White House spokesman Jay Carney wouldn't say whether the U.S. was downplaying the meeting to avoid upsetting the Chinese, nor whether the U.S. gave China advance notice before announcing the visit.

"We are committed to a constructive relationship with China," he said.

A frequent visitor to the U.S., the Dalai Lama has lived in exile in northern India since fleeing China in 1959. His meeting with Obama came near the start of a three-week speaking tour focused more on spiritual fulfillment, business ethics and violence than on Tibetan issues.

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