China warns Obama off prayer meeting with Dalai Lama

February 3, 2015 12:44 pm0 commentsViews: 419
US President Barack Obama. (Photo courtesy: nbcnews.com)

US President Barack Obama. (Photo courtesy: nbcnews.com)

(TibetanReview.net, Feb03, 2015) – Responding to reports Jan 29 that Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, will attend the congressionally organized annual US National Prayer Breakfast meeting on Feb 5, which will be addressed by President Barack Obama, China on Feb 2 warned against any meeting between the two leaders. China is firmly opposed to any meeting between any country’s leader and the Dalai Lama “in any form”, China’s official Xinhua news agency Feb 2 quoted foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei as saying.

It was not clear whether China would consider the mere presence of the two leaders on the same platform without any sort of interaction a meeting. A commentary in China’s official chinadaily.com.cn Feb 2 did quote White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan as saying, “We don’t have any specific meeting with the Dalai Lama to announce”.

Nevertheless, the Xinhua report did quote Hong as saying at a press briefing, “We strongly oppose any country interfering in China’s internal affairs in the name of issues regarding Tibet. … Issues regarding Tibet concern China’s core interests and national sentiments.”

He wanted the United States to stick to what he called its commitments on issues regarding Tibet, “and properly settle related issue with the overall interests of China-U.S. relations in mind.”

The US National Prayer Breakfast, founded in 1953, is held annually in Washington, DC on the first Thursday of February. Every US president since Dwight D Eisenhower has participated in the event, noted the chinadaily.com.cn commentary. It added that Obama was also scheduled to address the meeting.

A chinadaily.com.cn report Feb 2 also cited criticisms from China’s official experts and observers, calling the Dalai Lama a secessionist despite his well-publicized position of seeking only genuine autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule.

The report cited Yuan Zheng, a senior researcher on US foreign policy studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as saying the mystery of “to meet or not to meet” was producing ambiguity that was already making China feel unease. In Yuan’s view, the Obama administration was trying to “seek a smart balance between catering to domestic voters and controlling a potential offense to China.”

Likewise, Da Wei, a senior researcher on US studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, has speculated, “Washington is evaluating how to minimize the trauma of a meeting to the US-China relationship. And they know well that China definitely would lodge a protest.” To him, the event will be a matter of “managing a publicity stunt” as well as “cushion(ing) the blow” from China.

However, he has made a significant point that while the previous three meetings between the Dalai Lama and Obama, including the last one in Feb 2014, were private, held behind closed doors, the upcoming event will be public and therefore more damaging. “Because the congressional event will provide access to media, rather than offering a private occasion as in previous meetings in the White House, it may make things worse,” Da was quoted as saying.

Meeting the Dalai Lama is a political headache that often affects China’s relationship with the West because such an encounter is viewed as supporting separatism in Tibet, the report explained.

Yet another commentary on chinadaily.com.cn Feb 2 accused Obama of acquiescing to the Dalai Lama’s attempt to split Tibet from China, irrespective of the question whether the arrangement has been orchestrated so the meeting is not a specially arranged one, so that more room is left for the White House to respond to China’s reaction. It would not matter to China, it said, whether it was the US president’s idea to invite him (the Dalai Lama). It wanted “all US politicians” to be clear that any meeting by a US president with the Dalai Lama in whatever form and on whatever occasion will unquestionably step on China’s toes and therefore cast a shadow over US-China relations.

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