BEIJING – China is lashing out at President Obama for a meeting he is to have today with the Dalai Lama in its continuing attempt worldwide to marginalize the Tibetan spiritual leader for his support of greater autonomy for Tibet.
The Dalai Lama, 78, has been in exile from his Himalayan homeland since 1959, when he fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. Chinese troops killed hundreds of Buddhist monks, and destroyed thousands of temples, in its takeover of the country.
Within hours of the meeting being confirmed Thursday, China’s foreign ministry issued a statement that warned the meeting “will grossly interfere in the internal affairs of China, seriously violate norms governing international relations and severely impair China-US relations.”
Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying reiterated those remarks at a regular press conference today in Beijing.
Beijing remains determined to limit the Dalai Lama’s international influence and pressures governments worldwide not to meet the Buddhist monk it has called a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
China responded to a visit granted the Dalai Lama in the United Kingdom by putting diplomatic relations into cold storage for over a year after Prime Minister David Cameron met him in May 2012.
Countries next in China’s firing line over Tibet include the Netherlands and Norway, which the Dalai Lama will visit in May.
Beijing has given Norway years of diplomatic and business grief after the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize award to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. His wife Liu Xia, held under effective house arrest ever since, and never charged with any crime, was hospitalized this week, reported Reuters.
Obama has met the Dalai Lama twice before in February 2010 and July 2011 despite criticism from China. But supporters of the Dalai Lama were also unhappy, saying Obama accorded him less respectful treatment to mollify China.
In 2010, Obama sat down with his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate for a brief meeting in the Map Room rather than the Oval Office, where presidents usually visit with international leaders. Their talks were held out of view of cameras and the public. Reporters were not permitted to enter the room or ask questions.
The Dalai Lama left the White House through an a exit used largely by household staff. A photograph of him being ushered past bags of trash generated anger among some of his supporters.
The White House said Obama told the Dalai Lama that he supported preservation of Tibet’s culture and human rights for Tibetans.
In the 2011 visit, Obama again refused requests from China that he disinvite the Dalai Lama but again met him in the Map Room. The White House issued a single photo of the two leaders in which Obama is seated next to the Dalai Lama tieless.
On Friday, Obama will host the Dalai Lama again in the Map Room. To reinforce the unofficial nature, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Obama meets the Dalai Lama “in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader.”
Hayden also reassured Beijing with remarks that the U.S. government recognizes Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China, and does not support Tibetan independence. But she also raised long-standing U.S. concerns about “continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised the same issues with Chinese leaders in Beijing last week on a trip dominated by two more pressing and equally tough topics: how to persuade Beijing to apply more pressure on North Korea, and how to get Beijing to stop pressuring other neighbors on multiple territorial disputes.
In Dharamsala, northern India, the seat of Tibet’s government-in-exile, spokesman Tashi Phuntsok said Friday he was “happy” Obama was meeting the Dalai Lama again, “even at the cost of Chinese displeasure.”
Many countries “are aware of how much pressure China applies with regards to the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, his schedules in different countries and even his lectures at colleges and universities,” said Phuntsok, secretary for information and international relations at the Central Tibetan Administration.
China’s long-term goal is to “stop Tibetan engagement in the international arena,” he said. “We are strongly confident that this will not come true.”
Phuntsok welcomed repeated U.S. calls for Beijing to begin unconditional talks with Dharamsala on Tibet.
“Despite the frustrations and difficulties today, we believe the situation will have to be resolved through dialogue and negotiation,” he said.
Contributing: Sunny Yang