Barack Obama receives the Dalai Lama despite warning from China

The pair hold talks in White House after foreign ministry underlines damage to bilateral relations

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 1:34am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 5:33am

President Barack Obama met the Dalai Lama in the White House yesterday, despite China issuing a last-minute warning to Washington to call off the meeting.

The encounter took place in the Map Room on the ground floor of the president’s residence and not the Oval Office, which Obama usually uses to meet foreign leaders and visiting dignitaries. The arrangement was apparently intended to highlight the Tibetan spiritual leader’s capacity as a cultural and religious leader instead of a political one.

Still, it was the US National Security Council, not the White House, that announced the meeting took place.

“The president is currently meeting w/His Holiness the DalaiLama in his capacity as an internationally respected religious & cultural leader,” the council said on Twitter.

There were no sightings of the Dalai Lama arriving at the White House and in a sign of its diplomatic sensitivity, the Obama administration ruled that the meeting would be closed to the press.

Last night in Beijing, a senior military official voiced China’s objection to the meeting, following the foreign ministry’s warning to Washington.

General Fan Changlong, one of the two vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission, told the visiting US Army chief of staff, Ray Odierno, of “China’s serious stance on the planned meeting between US President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama”, Xinhua reported.

Both also spoke of fostering bilateral military ties and exchanged views on China-Japan relations, the situation on the Korean peninsula and Taiwan.

Earlier, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “For the United States leader to meet the Dalai Lama is a gross interference in China’s internal affairs and a serious violation of the norms of international relations.”

Hua sidestepped a question during a daily news briefing about whether Beijing would try to have the meeting cancelled.

But she said: “If any country deliberately insists on harming China’s interests, in the end it will also damage its own interests and will harm the bilateral relations between China and the relevant country. [If] the US president wishes to meet any person, it’s his own affair, but he cannot meet the Dalai Lama.”

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the US supported the Dalai Lama’s approach, but recognised Tibet to be “a part of the People’s Republic of China”.

Obama and President Xi Jinping are due to meet at a nuclear security summit in the Netherlands next month.

Jin Canrong, of Renmin University’s School of International Relations, said the meeting reflected US efforts “to maximise its political benefit domestically and minimise its negative impact on Sino-US relations”.

He said: “While using the encounter to show the Obama administration’s concern over human rights …  the White House is trying to avoid being trapped in controversy over the issue of China’s sovereignty over Tibet.”

Reuters, Agence France-Presse