Two Nobel Peace laureates hold White House talks, despite Chinese warnings.
Every sitting U.S. president has met with the Dalai Lama since George H. W. Bush in 1991, with then-president George W. Bush awarding the leader the Congressional Gold Medal in a high-profile ceremony in 2007.
While Obama will not appear in public with the Dalai Lama and, like his White House predecessors, will deny him the symbolism of meeting in the Oval Office, there are already signs that Sino-U.S. relations may be deteriorating since Obama’s November visit to China.
On the eve of the Dalai Lama’s visit, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted the United States and China — the world’s largest and third-biggest economies — have a “mature relationship” capable of withstanding disagreements.
Beijing said it was “strongly dissatisfied” about the meeting and expected Washington to take steps to put bilateral relations back on a healthy course.
Within hours of the White House talks between U.S. President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman issued a statement saying the meeting had “seriously harmed” U.S.-Sino relations.
“We believe the actions of the U.S. side have seriously interfered in Chinese internal affairs, seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and seriously undermined China-U.S. relations,” he said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry summoned the American ambassador in Beijing to lodge its “solemn representations” - claiming the United States had “grossly violated international relations” by ignoring its warnings not to meet with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
The White House said Obama and the Dalai Lama also “agreed on the importance of a positive and cooperative relationship between the United States and China.”
“We are fully committed to remain in the People’s Republic of China,” the Dalai Lama told reporters. But he reiterated his longstanding call for “meaningful autonomy.”
White House officials said the president was pleased to hear that China and the exiled Tibetan leadership had recently resumed talks and urged the Dalai Lama to continue further dialog.
But the officials were keen to make it clear to Beijing the Dalai Lama had not been received as a political leader. The pair met in the White House Map Room, not the official Oval Office and only one photo was released of the two together.