China demands U-turn on Obamas Dalai Lama meet

BEIJING: China today demanded the White House cancel a meeting between US President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, warning that already strained ties between the two powers would be damaged further.

Beijing reacted angrily to the White House announcement that Obama would next week receive the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, accused by China of seeking independence for his homeland.

“We firmly oppose the Dalai Lama visiting the United States and US leaders having contact with him,” foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said. “We urge the US side to fully understand the high sensitivity of Tibet-related issues, and honour its commitment to recognise Tibet as part of China and to oppose ‘Tibet independence’,” he added.

“China urges the US... to immediately call off the wrong decision of arranging for President Obama to meet the Dalai Lama... to avoid any more damage to Sino-US relations.”

The two sides have clashed in recent weeks over a 6.4-billion-dollar US arms deal for Taiwan, with China accusing the US of violating the “code of conduct between nations” by selling weapons to what it sees as Chinese territory. Beijing has also been irked by Washington’s support for Google after the web giant announced it would no longer abide by China’s strict Internet censorship rules and could quit the country over “highly sophisticated” cyberattacks.

The foreign ministry angrily denied any involvement in the hacking of Gmail accounts and accused Washington of “double standards” after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented the restrictions on China’s 384 million Internet users.

The White House invitation to the Dalai Lama, who will be in the

US for a week starting Wednesday, also comes as Obama tries to build

an international consensus on

sanctions against Iran.

If there is to be a unified front against Tehran over what the West believes is a covert nuclear weapons programme, Obama must secure the backing of China, which wields a veto as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. In one step possibly intended to mollify China, Obama’s February 18 talks with the Dalai Lama will take place in the White House Map Room, not the Oval Office, where the US president normally meets foreign leaders and VIP guests.

“The Dalai Lama is an internationally respected religious leader. He’s a spokesman for Tibetan rights. The president looks forward to an engaging and constructive meeting,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

It was not clear whether Obama would meet the Dalai Lama in front of the cameras, or in private.