Obama meets with Dalai Lama despite objections
President Obama met with the Dalai Lama on Wednesday morning for the fourth time during his presidency. The White House didn’t allow press coverage of their chat, forcing the focus of coverage on who didn’t want it to happen rather than what they discussed.
Chinese officials objected to the meeting, arguing that the Buddhist leader is a separatist who undermines their rule over Tibet. They’ve retaliated against leaders who’ve met with the Dalai Lama in the past, such as when they canceled high-level meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012, The New York Times reported.
“Tibet affairs are part of China’s internal affairs, and no foreign country has the right to interfere,” said Lu Kang, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the Times.
The threat of a negative response from China affects even state-level government officials in the U.S. Taowen Le, a Weber State University professor and representative of a Chinese province with ties to the Utah Legislature, emailed lawmakers on Tuesday, urging them not to meet with the Dalai Lama when he comes to Salt Lake City on June 21, the Deseret News reported.
“Any meeting between you and him would be inevitably interpreted in ways that would jeopardize Utah’s relations with China,” Le said.
In response, the Utah House and Senate chiefs of staff said in a joint statement that Utah’s friendship with Liaoning (Province) “has never been contingent upon abandoning our core values, which include freedom of speech and association.”
Chinese officials have viewed the Dalai Lama as a threat to their rule over Tibet for decades. The Buddhist leader fled to India in 1959, which is still his home base in between his trips around the world.
“The United States has long recognized Tibet, which People’s Liberation Army troops entered in 1950, as a part of China. But the White House has also indicated support for the Dalai Lama’s ‘middle way,’ which says that Tibet should be neither independent nor dominated by China, but enjoy the autonomy promised by Chinese law,” the Times reported.
The White House referred to the meeting as personal rather than political, highlighting “Obama’s appreciation for the Tibetan spiritual leader’s teachings,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Dalai Lama told Reuters that Obama is “a longtime friend whom he admired for his work to normalize relations with Cuba, on Iran and for his recent visits to former U.S. foe Vietnam and the state of the Hiroshima atomic bombing in Japan.”
On Wednesday, the president and spiritual leader discussed this weekend’s tragedy in Orlando and their shared hope of ensuring that the Dalai Lama’s relationship with Chinese officials will soon improve, according to a readout of the meeting provided by the White House Office of Communications.
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