Defying China, Obama to meet Dalai Lama

WASHINGTON: The White House is standing tough on President Barack

Obama’s plans to meet the

Dalai Lama, firmly rejecting Chinese pressure to snub him as

rows escalate between Washington and Beijing.

The Chinese government reacted today to the plans by saying it “resolutely opposes” the Dalai Lama’s visit to the United States and any of his meetings with US leaders. “We urge the US side to clearly recognise the high sensitivity of the Tibet issue and handle related issues carefully and appropriately to avoid causing more harm to Sino-US ties,” foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement.

Days after defying Beijing with a 6.4-billion-dollar weapons package for Taiwan, the White House insisted on Tuesday that China address human rights concerns in Tibet. “The president told China leaders during his trip last year that he would meet the Dalai Lama, and he intends to do so,” White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters.

“The Dalai Lama is an internationally respected religious and cultural leader, and the president will meet with him in that capacity.” The Dalai Lama is due in the United States for a 10-day trip later this month, his secretary said, and will be in Washington on February 17-19 before speaking and teaching engagements in Los Angeles and Florida. He will return to India from New York on February 25. Burton said the president remained committed to “building a positive, comprehensive and cooperative relationship with China.” In October, Obama avoided meeting the Dalai Lama he visited Washington. The move was controversial at home, but the White House said Obama did not want to sour ties with Beijing before his maiden visit a month later.

Ma noted the two sides had discussed the issue during Obama’s visit to China in November, when Chinese leaders stated their “firm opposition towards any national leader or government official meeting the Dalai Lama.”

The United States considers both Taiwan, where the mainland’s defeated nationalists fled in 1949, and Tibet, where Beijing sent troops in 1950, to belong to China. But Burton said, “We have human rights concerns about the treatment of Tibetans. We urge the government of China to protect the unique cultural and religious traditions of Tibet.” China earlier warned that a meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama would “seriously undermine” US-China ties. “If the US leader chooses to meet with the Dalai Lama at this time, it will certainly threaten trust and cooperation between China and the United States,” said Zhu Weiqun, executive vice minister of the Communist Party body that handles contact with the Dalai Lama.