Update at bottom: Dalai Lama aide defends aloof Obama
Two years after being greeted publicly by former President George W. Bush, the Dalai Lama appears to be getting the cold shoulder from the White House's new occupant.
"In an attempt to gain favor with China, the United States pressured Tibetan representatives to postpone a meeting between the Dalai Lama and President Obama until after Obama's summit with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, scheduled for next month, according to diplomats, government officials and other sources familiar with the talks," John Pomfret reports for the Washington Post.
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For the first time since 1991, the Tibetan spiritual leader will visit Washington this week and not meet with the president. Since 1991, he has been here 10 times. Most times the meetings have been "drop-in" visits at the White House. The last time he was here, in 2007, however, George W. Bush became the first sitting president to meet with him publicly, at a ceremony at the Capitol in which he awarded the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress's highest civilian award.
The U.S. decision to postpone the meeting appears to be part of a strategy to improve ties with China that also includes soft-pedaling criticism of China's human rights and financial policies as well as backing efforts to elevate China's position in international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund. Obama administration officials have termed the new policy "strategic reassurance," which entails the U.S. government taking steps to convince China that it is not out to contain the emerging Asian power.
Congressman Frank Wolf called it a "dark, dark moment" and recalled hearing Tibetans' past accounts of torture at the Drapchi prison in the Himalayan territory.
"What would a Buddhist monk or Buddhist nun in Drapchi prison think when he heard that President Obama, the president of the United States, is not going to meet with the Dalai Lama?" said Wolf, a Republican and outspoken critic of China's rights record.
"It's against the law to even have a picture of the Dalai Lama. I can almost hear the words of the Chinese guards saying to them that nobody cares about you in the United States," Wolf said.
Tibetan prime minister-in-exile Samdhong Rinpoche accused the United States and other Western nations of "appeasement" toward China as its economic weight grows.
Obama, who met with the Dalai Lama when he was a senator, has been seeking a broader relationship with China, which has emerged into the top holder of the ballooning US debt.
The Dalai Lama has met every sitting US president since George H.W. Bush in 1991. In Washington, he will see congressional leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longstanding supporter of the Tibetan cause.
He also plans to present an award to a group of Chinese who have tried to build bridges with Tibetans. Organizers declined to identify the honorees beforehand, fearing it could put them at personal risk.
Kate Saunders, communications director of the International Campaign for Tibet, which works closely with the Dalai Lama, said the Tibetan leader wanted to "show his commitment to engaging with China."
"This is an important visit to renew connections with congressional leaders and speak directly with Congress at a critical moment for Tibet," she said.
China last year put down some of the biggest protests by Tibetans in years in the run-up to the closely watched Beijing Olympics.
China has said "rioters" were responsible for 21 deaths, while saying that its security forces killed only one "insurgent."
However, the exiled Tibetan government has said more than 200 Tibetans were killed in China's subsequent crackdown.
China has since intensified pressure on the Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of being a "splittist." The Dalai Lama espouses non-violence and says he is only seeking greater rights for Tibetans under Chinese rule.
China called off a major summit with European nations after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Dalai Lama. South Africa refused even to allow the Tibetan spiritual leader to visit.
But the Dalai Lama nonetheless draws packed audiences for his spiritual lectures, with tickets sold out for a talk he will deliver in Washington on "finding wisdom in the modern world."
"Certainly the Dalai Lama's position as a spiritual leader and a human rights activist has never flagged. But in dealing with China, anything really can be constructed as a political statement," said Dahpon Ho, a specialist on East Asian history at American University.
"The fact that the Dalai Lama is even traveling around continues to upset China because his international profile has never died," he said.
Dalai Lama aide defends aloof Obama
WASHINGTON — The Dalai Lama's top negotiator on Monday defended President Barack Obama's decision not to meet the spiritual leader, saying that warm US-China ties were in Tibetans' interests.
Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, who has met every sitting US president since George H.W. Bush in 1991, arrives later Monday on a week-long visit to Washington which includes talks with congressional leaders but not Obama.
Obama has sought a broader relationship with China, where he pays his first presidential visit in November. China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 and in recent months has ramped up pressure on other nations to shun the Dalai Lama.
But Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's negotiator in infrequent talks with Beijing, said the Tibetans took a "broader and long-term perspective" that it was better to meet after Obama's visit to China.
"The Dalai Lama has always been supportive of American engagement with China," Gyari, who lives in the United States, said in a statement.
"Our hope is that the cooperative US-Chinese relationship that President Obama's administration seeks will create conditions that support the resolution of the legitimate grievances of the Tibetan people," he said.
The Dalai Lama's supporters say that they are hopeful that Obama, who met with the Tibetan leader when he was a senator, will receive him by the end of the year.
But others were outraged by Obama's decision, fearing that China will interpret it as free rein to clamp down in Tibet.
Republican Congressman Frank Wolf, speaking at a hearing last week, recalled a past visit to the Himalayan region where he heard accounts of torture.
"What would a Buddhist monk or Buddhist nun in Drapchi prison think when he heard that President Obama, the president of the United States, is not going to meet with the Dalai Lama?" Wolf said.
"It's against the law to even have a picture of the Dalai Lama. I can almost hear the words of the Chinese guards saying to them that nobody cares about you in the United States."
The Dalai Lama has spent 50 years in exile in India after fleeing amid a failed uprising in Lhasa.
China has emerged as a pivotal trading partner of the United States and the top holder of its ballooning debt.
(with AFP reports)