News / Asia

China Lodges Protest of Dalai Lama's White House Meeting With US Ambassador

Peter Simpson

Officials in Beijing have summoned the U.S. ambassador to China to protest President Barack Obama's meeting Thursday with the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet. 

Within hours of the White House talks between U.S. President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman issued a statement saying the meeting had "seriously harmed" U.S.-Sino relations.

"We believe the actions of the U.S. side have seriously interfered in Chinese internal affairs, seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and seriously undermined China-U.S. relations," he said.
 
The Chinese Foreign Ministry summoned the American ambassador in Beijing to lodge its "solemn representations" - claiming the United States had "grossly violated international relations" by ignoring its warnings not to meet with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said the American ambassador in Beijing, Jon Hunstman, told Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai it was the time for the two countries to move forward and cooperate for the benefit of the "two countries, the region and the world".

She said the United States had expected an angry reaction, even though it warned Beijing months ago that President Obama would defy China's repeated call to snub the Dalai Lama.

"I don't think this has come as a surprise, no," said Hunstman. "The president had expressed his concerns for human rights in Tibet and his admiration for the Dalai Lama as an international religious figure.  I can't say what would appease the Chinese on this meeting but of course we had told the Chinese months in advance and in fact when President Obama was here in November he did mention he intended to meet with the Dalai Lama when he had his meeting with President Hu Jintao."

The Dalia Lama has been courted by U.S. presidents - usually in private - since 1991.

President Obama delayed meeting him last year to avoid alienating Beijing ahead of a state visit to China - a move that angered U.S. lawmakers and human-rights groups.  

China's reaction is considered routine. But tensions have already been simmering over several issues, including U.S. arms sale to Taiwan, trade relations and allegations of Chinese cyber-spying.

The U.S. Embassy spokeswoman refuted claims the president's meeting signaled a shift toward a tougher policy over China's human rights and other issues. "I wouldn't characterize [it] as change in tact. This is the tenor of our relationship, that we have issues that we disagree on and we have many more where we require close collaboration with the Chinese on," she said.

White House officials said the president was pleased to hear that China and the exiled Tibetan leadership had recently resumed talks and urged the Dalai Lama to continue further dialogue.

But the officials were keen to make it clear to Beijing the Dalai Lama had not been received as a political leader.  The pair met in the White House Map Room, not the official Oval Office and only one photo was released of the two together.

Most Tibetans in China continue to revere their exiled spiritual leader and celebrated the meeting by burning incense and setting off fireworks.

The Dalia Lama also met separately with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

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