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Obama meets with Dalai Lama

February 25th, 2010

President Barack Obama met with the Dalai Lama on Feb. 18. The decision to meet with the Dalai Lama further aggravated American tensions with China, which is already upset over a $6 billion U.S. arms deal with Taiwan.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, is viewed by China as a dangerous figure who seeks Tibetan independence from China. In spite of this, many other nations, including the U.S., see him as a peaceful, non-violent leader. In fact, the Dalai Lama is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

In an attempt to curb Chinese disapproval, the White House minimized the coverage of this meeting to focus on the issues at hand rather than the politics surrounding it. The administration even went so far as to publicly keep the two leaders from appearing together. Additionally, to address Chinese criticisms, the U.S. still maintains that Tibet is a part of China, not a separate entity.

In response to White House actions, Beijing finds it inconsistent for the U.S. to recognize Tibet as a part of China and to meet with an exiled leader. This meeting draws attention to the separatist sentiments of many Tibetans as well as emphasizes China’s questionable record on human rights.

Others who dissaproved of the meeting, such as Ted Carpenter of the Cato Institute, see this as a political ploy to detract from America’s economic situation as the nation proceeds toward midterm elections.

Although the Dalai Lama has frequented the White House for about two decades, starting with Pres. George H.W. Bush, China remains adamantly opposed to U.S. recognition of this leader. As such, they have voiced their condemnation of the meeting; however, no specific repercussions were mentioned by Beijing prior to the engagement.  Yet, the Chinese government did go so far as to beckon the United States ambassador to directly relay their disapproval.  Although it is unclear how China will respond to the meeting, in reference to the arms sale, China has threatened to sanction the companies involved in providing the weapons.

According to Pam Mason, a political science professor at John Carroll University, “They [the United States] are risking less cooperation from China on issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear weapons program, to energy, to other global security issues. Also, the United States and Chinese economies are very deeply intertwined. So, in addition to security, there could also be economic fallout from real Chinese disapproval. It is unclear whether rhetoric is just rhetoric.”

Obama reportedly kept the scheduled meeting based on the United States dedication to human rights.  Nevertheless, there are many that believe more is occurring than just a discussion of human rights in Tibet.

“In general, China is really returning to the center of the world stage after a long absence. China and the United States are testing their relationship in many ways, and this is an occasion for the testing of the relationship without doubting America’s sincerity and commitment to human rights,” said Mason.

Regardless of the potential ramifications surrounding the meeting, during the talk, Obama affirmed U.S. support of Tibet’s cultural distinctiveness, including its religious preferences.

He also expressed support for human rights protections towards Tibetans. Now only time will tell the ramifications to the Chinese-United States relationship.