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Obama may meet Dalai Lama as Beijing seethes

July 19, 2009

From Times Of India

Beijing is not going to be amused but the Obama administration has approached Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama for a meeting with the US president when the Buddhist monk visits America between September-end and mid-October.

Highly placed government sources told TOI that the US administration has contacted Dalai Lama’s office for a meeting between the two leaders in what appears to be a considered decision, given China’s intense resentment of any official contact with the Dalai Lama whom it reviles as a “splittist”.

China’s anger has only increased after the violent protests ahead of last year’s Beijing Olympics and sees the Dalai Lama as the rallying point for Tibetan separatists. Perhaps anticipating that Obama may want to meet the Dalai Lama, China had on April 23 officially “warned” the US president against meeting the supreme spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists.

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to visit Los Angeles in the last week of September after which he will fly to Vancouver to attend a peace conference. He will fly back to US in October where he has official engagements in Washington DC between October 8 and October 11 which is when the meeting could work out.

“I don’t think the exact date and time has been finalized and the two sides are still working it out. If it works out, they should meet during his stay in Washington DC,” said sources.
It does remain to be seen whether Obama meets him “privately” like his predecessor George Bush or officially in the Oval Office. Bush had met the Tibetan spiritual leader in 2007 at his White House residence, apparently as a figleaf of sorts to calm a livid China.

As part of its intense campaign this year to isolate the Buddhist leader, China has made several representations to the US government urging Washington to prevent the Dalai Lama from carrying out “separatist activities” on its territory.

During his stay in the US capital in October, Dalai Lama is scheduled to attend a “Mind and Life Conference” on the theme of Educating World Citizens in the 21st Century. He will also lecture on `The Heart of Change: Finding Wisdom in the Modern World’ in an event organized by the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture.

Beijing remains highly sensitive to any gesture of support to Dalai Lama and is apprehensive about such events lending a certain publicity and even legitimacy to the leader’s cause given the impressive support he enjoys among celebrities and think tanks in the West. With Obama still riding a wave of popularity at home and abroad, China feels the Dalai Lama’s meeting with Obama will boost the Tibetan cause.

Whether or not Obama would meet Dalai Lama has been a subject of intense speculation in the US with some analysts arguing that, like Bush and Bill Clinton before him, Obama would not ignore the leader and others arguing that the US President may not want to upset Beijing at a time when he is seeking support from China to battle the global economic crisis.

In fact, ahead of her visit to China this year in February, secretary of state Hillary Clinton, currently touring India, had said that the US would not allow China’s poor human rights record to come in the way of broader partnership and bilateral cooperation on economy and climate change.

Overall, however, especially in the past 10-15 years, US has looked upon the spiritual leader as a “universal symbol of peace and tolerance” much to the chagrin of Beijing. In 2007, it even awarded Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest US civilian honour – despite stiff opposition by China.

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