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Obama to Host Dalai Lama at White House

U.S. President Barack Obama hosts exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama Friday at the White House, prompting China to issue a statement of "serious concern."

The White House said late Thursday that Mr. 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, calling it a "gross interference" that will "seriously damage" U.S.-China ties.

Beijing regularly threatens nations hosting the Dalai Lama. It views him as a dangerous separatist responsible for a wave of self-immolations by Tibetans.

Tashi Phuntsok of the Central Tibetan Administration told VOA the responsibility for unrest in Tibet lies completely 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."

Phuntsok says 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.

China issued similar threats against the U.S. following meetings between Mr. 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, say it 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."

Powers tells VOA the visits and subsequent Chinese response has become "formulaic," with China, the U.S., and the Dalai Lama neither greatly benefiting nor suffering from the process.

But many analysts say 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.

The Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration, located in India, are outspoken critics of China's policies, but have discouraged the suicide protests.

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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