The United States has escalated a mounting row on multiple fronts with China, refusing Beijing’s demand to cancel President Barack Obama’s meeting next week with the Dalai Lama.
The deepening public spat over Tibet, a row over US arms sales to Taiwan, China’s dispute with Google and trade and currency disagreements, come at a key diplomatic moment, as Obama seeks Chinese help to toughen sanctions on Iran.
The White House announced Thursday that Obama would hold his long-awaited meeting with the revered Dalai Lama at the White House next week, drawing an angry reaction from China and a demand for the invitation to be rescinded.
But Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs signaled the White House would defy China’s warning that the encounter would damage already strained Sino-US relations.
“I do not know if their specific reaction was to cancel it,” Gibbs said.
“If that was their specific reaction, the meeting will take place as planned next Thursday.”
Obama avoided the Dalai Lama when he was in Washington in 2009, in an apparent bid to set relations with Beijing off on a good foot in the first year of a presidency which included several meetings with President Hu Jintao.
But he warned Chinese leaders on an inaugural visit to Beijing in November that he intended to meet the Buddhist monk.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said earlier that Beijing firmly opposed “the Dalai Lama visiting the United States and US leaders having contact with him.”
“China urges the US… to immediately call off the wrong decision of arranging for President Obama to meet with the Dalai Lama… to avoid any more damage to Sino-US relations.”
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet into exile in India in 1959, after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He denies he wants independence for Tibet, insisting he is looking only for “meaningful autonomy.”
Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama will take place in the White House Map Room and not, in an apparent effort to mollify China, in the Oval Office, where US presidents normally meet VIPs and visiting government chiefs.
The International Campaign for Tibet said Friday it welcomed the meeting.
“We believe that President Obama understands what is at stake for the Tibetan people and has a role to play as the leader of a nation founded on universal principles of freedom and justice,” said the campaign’s vice president for international advocacy Mary Beth Markey.
The Obama administration has insisted disputes over Tibet, Taiwan, currency and Google will not hamper efforts to win the support of China, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, on toughened nuclear sanctions against Iran.
China has yet to agree to the concept of toughened sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, calling for more negotiations, even as Russia appears closer to backing the move to punish Tehran.
US officials say that the Sino-US relationship is mature enough to override disagreements on key issues but the temperature of public disagreements has risen sharply in recent days.
The powers have clashed over a 6.4-billion-dollar US arms deal for Taiwan, with China accusing the United States of violating the “code of conduct between nations” with the sale to what it sees as a Chinese territory.
Beijing also has been angered by Washington’s support for Google after the web giant announced it would no longer abide by China’s strict Internet censorship rules and could quit the country over cyberattacks.
The foreign ministry denied involvement in the hacking of Gmail accounts and accused Washington of “double standards” after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented the restrictions on China’s 384 million Internet users.
Earlier this month, Obama said he planned to be “much tougher” about enforcing trade rules with China, and favored constant pressure on Beijing over opening markets and on currency rates.
China responded by dismissing US “wrongful accusations and pressure.”
The Dalai Lama arrives in Washington on February 17. In addition to meeting with the president, he will receive the Democracy Service Medal from the National Endowment for Democracy at a February 19 ceremony at the Library of Congress.