News / Asia

    Obama to Host Dalai Lama at White House

    Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama speaks before members of the Japanese parliament, at the upper house members' office building in Tokyo, November 13, 2012.
    Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama speaks before members of the Japanese parliament, at the upper house members' office building in Tokyo, November 13, 2012.
    President Barack Obama will host exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House Friday, despite a stern warning from China.
     
    The White House said late Thursday that Obama is meeting the Dalai Lama "in his capacity as a respected religious and cultural leader."
     
    A statement said the U.S. supports the Dalai Lama's so-called "middle way" approach of neither assimilation nor independence for Tibetans in China.
     
    China's foreign ministry quickly urged the U.S. to cancel the meeting. Spokeswoman Hua Chunying warned of serious diplomatic repercussions.
     
    "The Dalai is a political exile who has long used the cloak of religion to engage in anti-China, separatist activities. The United States' arrangement for its leader to meet the Dalai would be a gross interference in China's internal affairs and is a serious violation of the norms of international affairs. It will also seriously damage Sino-U.S. relations," said Hua.
     
    China issued similar threats against the U.S. following meetings between Obama and the Dalai Lama in 2010 and 2011.
     
    The visits did not significantly impact U.S.-China relations then, and analysts such as John Powers, an Asian studies professor at the Australian National University, said this upcoming meeting is unlikely to do so now.
     
    "China goes through the same sort of routine about protesting regularly and interference in China's internal affairs and things keep going the same way. Nothing ever really happens," said Powers.
     
    Powers told VOA the visits and subsequent Chinese response have become "formulaic," with China, the U.S., and the Dalai Lama neither greatly benefiting nor suffering from the process.
     
    Nonetheless, many rights groups have said it is important for the meetings to continue, in order to keep up global awareness of China's treatment of Tibetans.
     
    Since February 2009, more than 126 people have self-immolated in traditionally Tibetan areas of China to protest Beijing's policy in their homeland.
     
    Beijing has said the Dalai Lama is responsible for the wave of self-immolations, which it views as terrorism.
     
    While the Dalai Lama and the India-based Central Tibetan Administration are outspoken critics of China, they have discouraged the suicide protests.
     
    Tashi Phuntsok of the Central Tibetan Administration told VOA the responsibility for unrest in Tibet lies with Chinese authorities.
     
    "Why are Tibetans protesting or self-immolating? It's very simple. Tibetans in Tibet after nearly 60 years under China do not feel free and therefore they are against the repression. And the world sees [this] very clearly," said Phuntsok.
     
    Phuntsok said the meeting is "good for Tibet" and represents a "strong endorsement" of the policies of the Dalai Lama, who officially retired from his political role three years ago.
     
    The Britain-based Free Tibet said in a statement President Obama "deserves praise" for holding the meeting. It said China has "no right to tell the leaders of democratic countries that they cannot meet anyone, let alone a spiritual leader and Nobel-laureate who is one of the world's leading advocates for peace."
     
    Many Tibetans in China accuse the government of a campaign of religious and cultural persecution, as the country's majority Han ethnic group continues to move into historically Tibetan areas.
     
    China rejects that, saying Tibetans enjoy religious freedom. Beijing also points to huge ongoing investment it says has brought modernization and an increased standard of living to Tibet.

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