Obama and the Lama

The Dalai Lama and President Obama upset China with surreptitious meeting

by Bryan LeBlanc

Relations between China and the United States are tense after the latter ignored Chinese threats surrounding President Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama last Thursday in the White House Map Room.

China rebelled once more as the Dalai Lama participated in a clandestine meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. Recent tensions from the United States selling $6.4-billion (U.S.) worth of weapons to Taiwan have led to retaliatory threats from China, who want the United States to stay out of their affairs. In response, the U.S. claims that they are merely showing support for the Tibetan way of life.

China views the Dalai Lama as a separatist and claims the U.S. welcoming him is lending support to anti-China separatists. China also wants the U.S. to stay out of their internal affairs, but recent tensions between the two countries over Internet censorship, trade and nuclear proliferation have made their relationship as volatile as ever.

Tensions between the two superpowers escalated to the point that China planned on disallowing one of the largest aircraft carriers, USS Nimitz, from docking in Hong-Kong.  “The U.S. act amounted to serious interference in Chinese domestic affairs, and has seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and seriously damaged China-U.S. relations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement on the ministry website. USS Nimitz was never denied its landing in Hong-Kong, however. 

Chinese anger  was to be expected considering their past reactions to U.S. meetings with the Dalai Lama, especially their outrage in 2007 when former President George W. Bush attended the ceremony where the Dalai Lama received the Congressional Gold Medal, a great civilian honour. “This certainly isn’t the first meeting between a U.S. president and the Dalai Lama, and so both sides knew what was coming and China’s response reflected that,” Jin Canrong, an expert on China-U.S. ties at Renmin University in Beijing said to The Globe and Mail.  

It was a time of joy for Tibetans as they celebrated Chinese New Year along with the Dalai Lama’s meeting with the U.S. President with fireworks at midnight.  Tsering, a Tibetan celebrating the lunar new year on Thursday, smiled when he heard the meeting was to take place. “It lets us know we have not been forgotten,” he said to The Guardian. 

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