Dalai Lama and President Obama meet amid Chinese protests today to discuss a territorial dispute between China and Japan. China says it opposed the meeting due to the Dalai Lama’s history of calling for greater autonomy for Tibet and threatened that any western country harboring him against their wishes suffer serious consequences. Despite this President Obama and the Dalai Lama met in the White House Map Room, a signal of the meetings low-key nature, to discuss the potential role the U.S. may play in the dispute over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea between Japan and China. The greatest concern for China seemed to be worries that the Dalai Lama was seeking a soap box from which to spread anti-Chinese sentiment, but in a statement released by the White House said that the Dalai Lama is not seeking independence for Tibet, only freedom, and that both the President and the exiled spiritual leader agree that warm relations between the U.S. and China are important for the world at large.
Concern over China’s human rights practices was another driving force in hurried arrangement of the meeting, which caused fierce responses from Chinese spokespeople that the U.S. should mind its own business and not interfere in China’s policies, calling the Dalai Lama “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” China has also said that the Dalai Lama seeks to use violent methods to wrest control of Tibet from the Chinese government while defaming and destroying Tibetan philosophy and culture, leading to concerns about human rights in the region. The Dalai Lama continually denies that he wants to remove Tibet from Chinese control, via violence or otherwise. Despite this, over 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 in Chinese controlled areas of the country, leading many to say that enough is enough, and a solution must be found to dismantle the decades of tension in the region. Now that the Dalai Lama and President Obama have met amid Chinese protests, there is concern that the consequences of the relationship between two of the most powerful nations on Earth becoming frosty may be dire even for nations entirely uninvolved. China and the U.S. are dependant on each other in many issues, including keeping a handle on the tensions rising in North Korea and Syria, as well as manufacturing and economic ties. On top of that, China is one of the U.S.’s largest creditors, and with the United States in no position to pay back its massive loans, many are worried about what might happen in China calls in its tab.
China went on to point out that although the Dalai Lama presents himself as a spiritual leader he has tremendous political clout as well, whether he wants it or not. Despite the Dalai Lama and President Obama meeting amid Chinese protests, the Presidents of both countries are scheduled to meet at a nuclear security summit in the Netherlands next month. When asked if the meeting would be cancelled, Chinese spokespeople said that if Obama wants to meet people it is his business, but he should be wary of fallout should he hinder China’s interests.
By Daniel O’Brien