US president Barack Obama met the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, at the White House on Wednesday despite a warning by China that it would damage diplomatic relations.
The meeting came at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and China over Beijing’s assertive pursuit of territorial claims in East Asia.
Obama’s fourth White House meeting with the Dalai Lama in the past eight years took place in the White House residence, instead of the Oval Office where the president normally meets world leaders.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the choice of the residence emphasised the ‘personal nature of their meeting.’
He said Obama thanked the Dalai Lama for his condolences for the victims of Sunday’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Earnest added that Obama had in the past spoken of his ‘warm personal feelings’ for the Dalai Lama, appreciation of his teachings and belief ‘in preserving Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions.’
At the same time, Earnest said the US position of considering Tibet part of China had not changed.
In an interview with Fox News later on Wednesday, the Dalai Lama said he and Obama talked about the current situation in Tibet.
He denied he was seeking independence and that it was in Tibet’s interests to remain part of China, ‘provided we should have full right for preservation of our own culture, or rich Buddhist knowledge, knowledge of Buddhist philosophy, these things.’
The Dalai Lama also noted in the interview that Chinese president Xi Jinping had said Buddhism was an important part of Chinese culture.
‘So this is something new, for a leader of a Communist party, you see, mentioning some positive things about leader of Buddhism, wonderful.’
China’s foreign ministry said earlier it had lodged diplomatic representations with the United States over the planned meeting, saying it would damage Chinese-US ties.
China considers the Dalai Lama a dangerous separatist, and ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the meeting would encourage ‘separatist forces’. He urged Washington to abide by its promises to recognise that Tibet is part of China and cease any support for Tibet independence.
A commentary on China’s official news agency, Xinhua, accused Washington of breaking its promise not to support Tibet’s independence by going ahead with the meeting. It said that had ‘seriously jeopardised China-US relations, and deeply hurt the Chinese people’s feelings.’
‘Supporting Tibet’s independence is a clear interference in China’s internal affairs and is in gross violation of the norms of international relations. Playing the ‘Tibet card’ shows the US government is overdrawing its political credit and international prestige.’
When Obama last met the Dalai Lama at the White House in 2014, he angered China by vowing ‘strong support’ for Tibetans’ human rights.
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet into exile in India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, said in the Fox News interview that China would eventually have to become more open.
‘So … Chinese people, including leaders, I think are getting some new experiences, so things will change,’ he said, adding there was no future in maintaining such tight social control.
Source: New Age