President Obama met with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama Friday, a move that Chinese officials proclaimed would “severely impair China-U.S. relations.” The hour long meeting held in the White House’s Map Room on the first floor of the presidential estate angered Chinese officials who said that such a meeting would put a damper on relations between the world’s two largest economies.
China has openly denounced the spiritual leader, saying that he is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” accusing him of supporting Tibet’s move for independence from China. Despite calls from the Chinese government to cancel the impending meeting, Obama remained steadfast, and met with the 78-year-old monk.
China has declared the Dalai Lama an “enemy of the state,” a bold choice of words against the Tibetan spiritual leader. Chinese officials also said that any foreign leader who meets with the Dalai Lama will “pay a price.”
A similar meeting between UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the Dalai Lama in May 2012 led to China giving UK the “cold shoulder”, essentially freezing diplomatic relations between the two nations.
The threats from Chinese officials about their disdain of the Dalai Lama has been a reoccuring theme in Chinese politics. The same situation happened back in 2011 when Obama met the fellow Nobel Peace laureate at the White House. The talks prompted an angry response from one of the U.S.’s largest trading partners.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the Chinese stance very clear, saying that the U.S. should take “China’s concern in a serious way,” and that the Dalai Lama’s activities border on “anti-China separatist activities under the cloak of religion.”
Despite China’s concerns about the seperatist-intentions of the Tibetan spiritual leader, U.S. officials reassured China that talks with the Dalai Lama would not be focused on Tibet. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden emphasized that meeting with the Dalai Lama was not a challenge to China’s authority over Tibet, and that the U.S. officially recognizes Tibet to be “a part of the People’s Repblic of China.”
The meeting was closed off to the public, due to the sensitivity of the meeting. U.S. officials declared that they would not meet in the Oval Office which is usually reserved when meeting heads of state or political figures, another swipe at China’s fears of an official diplomatic meeting with the Dalai Lama leading to an anti-China foreign policy in regards to Tibet.
In an official statement, the White House said that they do support the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way” philosophy, and that some type of action should be taken to quell hostile relations between Tibet and China, but do not support full independence for Tibet.
Lobsang Sangay, the Prime Minister of Tibet’s government-in-exile praised the meeting, declaring it as a “sign of progress” that Tibet’s message would be heard by “the most powerful person in the world.”
Various conflicts with China over internet security, territorial disputes, and human rights abuses are underscored in the latest clash over the Dalai Lama’s visits.
The Dalai Lama on his two-week tour of the U.S. stopped for an interview with Time magazine, where he applauded China’s president Xi Jinping, for his moves towards investigating corruption.
By John Amaruso