WASHINGTON/BEIJING: US President Barack Obama today offered “strong support” for Tibetans’ human rights as he met the region’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, defying China which lodged a diplomatic protest stating that bilateral ties had been seriously damaged by it.
“The President reiterated his strong support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China,” the White House said after the meeting.
The meeting took place in the Map Room of the White House – Obama’s residence – and not in his Oval Office, where the President usually holds talks with visiting dignitaries.
Obama commended the 78-year-old Dalai Lama’s commitment to peace and non-violence.
“The President stressed that he encourages direct dialogue to resolve long-standing differences and that a dialogue that produces results would be positive for China and Tibetans,” the White House said in a statement.
“In this context, the President reiterated the US position that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China and that the US does not support Tibet independence,” it said.
The Dalai Lama stated that he is not seeking independence for Tibet and hoped that dialogue between his representatives and the Chinese government will resume, the statement said.
“The President and the Dalai Lama agreed on the importance of a positive and constructive relationship between the United States and China,” it said.
The White House’ announcement of Obama’s third meeting with the spiritual leader drew a sharp reaction from China which has long opposed foreign dignitaries meeting the Dalai Lama who fled to India in 1959.
Lashing out at Obama for meeting the Dalai Lama despite pleas to cancel it, China summoned US Charge d’Affaires in Beijing and lodged a diplomatic protest stating that the meeting seriously damaged bilateral ties.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui summoned Daniel Kritenbrink, Charge d’Affaires of US Embassy in China, to lodge solemn representations for Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama regardless of China’s strong opposition, Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Zhang said such a wrong move gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs, seriously violated the US commitment of not supporting the “Tibet independence”, gravely violated basic norms governing international relations and seriously undermined the China-US relations.
“China expresses strong indignation and firm opposition,” Zhang said. Earlier, China had lodged diplomatic protest soon after the White House announced the meeting and later the Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying sought its cancellation saying that it would seriously impair the bilateral ties.
The meeting is a serious violation of the basic norms of international relations and caused serious damage to the US-China relations, the statement was quoted by the state-run Xinhua news agency as saying.
Hua told a media briefing earlier that “we are deeply concerned and have lodged solemn representations with the US side.”
“We must point out that Tibet-related affairs fall entirely within the internal affairs of China which allow no foreign interference. The Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the cloak of religion”, she said.
“By arranging a meeting between the President and the Dalai Lama, the US side will grossly interfere in the internal affairs of China, seriously violate norms governing international relations and severely impair China-US relations, Hua had said ahead of the meeting.
Obama and the Dalai Lama – both Nobel Peace Prize laureates – have met twice before in 2010 and 2011, drawing similar protests from China.
“China expresses firm opposition. We urge the US to take China’s concerns seriously, immediately cancel the meeting, and not to facilitate or provide platform for the Dalai Lama’s anti-China separatist activities in the US,” Hua said.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney refuted the Chinese opposition, arguing that Obama met the Dalai Lama was in keeping with the past practice as several US Presidents in the past have met the Tibetan spiritual leader in his capacity as an international cultural and religious leader.
“The President, as he has in the past on several occasions, and as presidents of both parties have done dating back to 1991, met today, with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader,” Carney said.
“When it comes to the relationship the United States has with China, the President and the Dalai Lama agreed on the importance of a positive and constructive US-China relationship, and of course we are committed to a constructive relationship with China in which we work together to solve regional and global problems,” he said.
The meeting was closed to the press and the Dalai Lama left the White House without interacting with journalists.
Hours before the meeting, China demanded its immediate cancellation, warning that the unjustified interference in its domestic affairs will cause “great damage” to bilateral ties.–PTI