China on Friday said US President Barack Obama had “seriously undermined ties” and “seriously hurt the national feelings of the Chinese people” by meeting the Dalai Lama in Washington.
Despite protests from China, Obama met with Tibet’s spiritual leader in the White House for nearly 70 minutes. He expressed his “strong support” for the “protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China.”
The White House, however, kept the meeting away from the media glare, releasing a single photograph of the two leaders together.
In a telephonic interview after the meeting, the Dalai Lama’s Secretary, Tenzin Taklha, who was part of the Tibetan delegation to the White House, said: “President Obama expressed his personal and the Administration’s support of His Holiness’ Middle Way approach.”
The Middle Way refers to the Dalai Lama’s seeking “genuine autonomy”, living in the “three traditional provinces” of Tibet.
Beijing reacted as anticipated with a strongly worded protest issued early Friday morning. Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai also summoned the US Ambassador Jon Huntsman to warn that Tibet issues are “purely China’s internal affairs”.
The statement issued on the foreign ministry website complained that the US had been ‘bent on arranging’ the meeting despite Chinese opposition, and had violated the basic norms of international relations. “Any attempt from any person to interfere in China’s internal affairs under the Dalai issue is doomed to failure,’’ it said.
The statement said it was up to the US to repair the damage in bilateral relations. “China requests the US side to...take prompt and effective measures to remove the erroneous impact, stop connivance and support of anti-China splittist forces for Tibet Independence, and stop interference in China’s internal affairs,’’ it said.
Beijing considers the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising, as a dangerous separatist “under the disguise of religion”. The Dalai Lama says he peacefully seeks greater autonomy for Tibetans.
China always protests when foreign leaders meet the Dalai Lama. This year, the protests were more aggressive as Washington increasingly depends on Beijing to support the US economy and tackle global issues from Iran to North Korea. However, Beijing’s latest clearance to a US aircraft carrier to berth in Hong Kong this week is seen as a sign that China will try to ease the tension.
“This isn’t the first meeting between a US president and the Dalai Lama, so both sides knew what was coming and China’s response reflected that,” Jin Canrong, an expert on China-US ties at Beijing’s Renmin University, told Reuters.
Talks held this month between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s envoys ended in failure. Beijing refuses to acknowledge the Dalai Lama as the representative of Tibetans. Chinese control over Tibet has tightened since riots swept Lhasa in March 2008.