July 17, 2011 in Nation/World

Obama stresses rights during Dalai Lama visit

China rips meeting at White House
Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

The Dalai Lama points to a ceremonial hat before a blessing at the Anacostia River on Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama held a White House meeting Saturday with the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel Peace laureate, hours after China called on the U.S. to rescind an invitation that could sour relations with Beijing.

The Tibetan spiritual leader has been in Washington for an 11-day Buddhist ritual.

Thousands of expatriate Tibetans joined a 76th birthday celebration Wednesday for the Dalai Lama, who’s just relinquished leadership of Tibet’s government-in-exile.

The White House said that during the 45-minute private session in the Map Room, Obama “underscored the importance of the protection of human rights of Tibetans in China.”

In a statement issued after the meeting, the White House also said Obama reiterated his support for the preservation of Tibet’s religious, cultural and linguistic traditions.

Obama restated U.S. policy that it does not support Tibetan independence, a goal that the Dalai Lama said he also does not seek.

In a nod to the criticism from Beijing, Obama also stressed to the Dalai Lama that he considers a cooperative relationship between the United States and China to be important, according to the White House statement.

China today slammed Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama as an act that has “grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs” and damaged Chinese-American relations, and demanded the U.S. remedy the situation.

China, its Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. had lodged objections with U.S. representatives in Beijing and Washington.

“Such an act has grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and damaged Sino-American relations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in the statement.

China considers the Dalai Lama a separatist intent on ending Chinese rule over Tibet. The Nobel laureate has repeatedly denied the accusations and says he seeks only a high level of autonomy for Tibet.

A Chinese crackdown led the Dalai Lama to flee into exile in India in 1959. China says he’s welcome to return if he drops his separatist activities, accepts Tibet as an inalienable part of China and recognizes Taiwan as a province of China.

The White House kept the meeting low key, closing it from news reporters and photographers. It chose the Map Room for the visit instead of the Oval Office, which is reserved for visiting heads of state.

The visit comes less than 10 days before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to visit the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. Vice President Joseph Biden is also scheduled to visit China this summer, followed by a trip to Washington by his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

© Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email