WASHINGTON: United States (US) President Barack Obama will host Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House on Friday (Saturday in Manila), a move China said would “seriously impair” ties as it called for the meeting to be canceled.
The meeting will take 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 US leader last met the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel Peace laureate, at the White House in 2011 in talks that triggered an angry response from Beijing, which said the encounter had harmed Sino-US relations.
China, which calls the Dalai Lama a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and accuses him of seeking independence for Tibet, was quick to react to Thursday’s announcement.
“China is firmly opposed to this,” foreign ministry spokes–woman Hua Chunying said in a statement on its website, just hours later.
“We urge the US side to treat China’s concern in a serious way and immediately cancel the planned meeting.”
Earlier, with the Dalai Lama already in the United States on a visit, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden announced that Obama would meet the monk “in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader.”
In a sign of the sensitivity of the occasion, the event was listed on the president’s daily schedule as closed to the press.
Hayden also underlined that the United States supported the Dalai Lama’s approach but recognized Tibet to be “a part of the People’s Republic of China.”
“We do not support Tibetan independence,” Hayden said.
“The United States strongly supports human rights and religious freedom in China. We are concerned about continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China.”
Hayden said the Obama ad–ministration would renew calls for the Chinese government to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions.
China has for decades opposed foreign dignitaries meeting the revered Buddhist leader, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
In Beijing, the spokeswoman Hua said that China had “already lodged solemn representations” with the United States.