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25 June 2024

Obama meets with Dalai Lama, upsetting China

The Dalai Lama (C) shakes hands with people as he departs the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) after a discussion on "Unlocking the Mind and Human Happiness" in Washington, DC, February 20, 2014. (AFP)

By Agencies

President Barack Obama held low-key talks with the Dalai Lama on Friday, prompting the Chinese government to ask why the White House ignored Beijing's warnings that the meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader would damage ties.

China's vice foreign minister, Zhang Yesui, summoned Daniel Kritenbrink, charge d'affaires of the US embassy in China, on Friday night to condemn the meeting as interference in China's internal affairs, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

China calls the Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959, a "wolf in sheep's clothing" who seeks to use violent methods to establish an independent Tibet. The Dalai Lama says he only wants genuine autonomy for Tibet and denies advocating violence.

Obama's private meeting with the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, lasted for about an hour. Obama reaffirmed his support for Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions and human rights for Tibetans, the White House said.

Obama said he did not support Tibetan independence from China and the Dalai Lama said he was not seeking it, the White House said in a statement.

The White House sidestepped questions about whether it was worried about the reaction from China.

"We are committed to a constructive relationship with China in which we work together to solve regional and global problems," White House spokesman Jay Carney told a regular news briefing, noting that Obama and other US presidents had previously met the Tibetan leader.

China's foreign ministry, in a statement on its website, cited vice foreign minister Zhang as saying the meeting was "a wrong move by the United States that seriously interfered in China's internal affairs and seriously violated the US promise of not supporting 'Tibet independence'".

"The United States' insistence on doing so would seriously damage China-US cooperation and bilateral relations, and would also harm the interests of the United States itself," Zhang said. "The United States must take concrete actions to gain the trust of the Chinese government and people."

The uproar is expected to be one of many challenges for the new US ambassador in China, Max Baucus, who was sworn in to his new role on Friday by Vice President Joe Biden.