US President Barack Obama will appear at a high-profile public event here this week that the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama is also attending, a move that is set to anger China.
Obama will address attendees about the importance of religious freedom on February 5 at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. The 14th Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in his Himalayan homeland and has lived in exile in India ever since, has also been invited to the meeting.
Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama, 79, of being a separatist seeking to split Tibet from the rest of China and of fomenting unrest in the remotely-located strategic region. The White House declined to say whether Obama and the Dalai Lama will meet at the event, though National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan noted that the two leaders have met three times before, most recently last February.
"The President is a strong supporter of the Dalai Lama's teachings and preserving Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions," Meehan said. "As he has done in the past, the President will see many religious leaders at the event, but we don't have any specific meeting with the Dalai Lama to announce."
Previous meetings between Obama and the Dalai Lama have been met with fierce Chinese protests that have soured relations between Washington and Beijing. After the most recent meeting in February last year, China accused the US of meddling in its affairs. The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his advocacy for Tibet in the country and around the world. Tibetans have continued to advocate for more autonomy and independence from the Chinese government, which continues to rule the region.