President Barack Obama has once again angered the Chinese government by meeting with their arch nemesis — His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Obama met with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader at the White House residences on Wednesday morning amid protests from Beijing.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest elaborated on Obama’s support for preserving Tibet’s unique religious tradition while maintaining that Tibet is still part of China.
“The president articulated his appreciation for the Dalai Lama’s teachings and believes in preserving Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions.”
While Obama typically meets with dignitaries in the Oval Office, the fact that he met the Dalai Lama at his residence behind closed doors highlights the more personal nature of the meeting.
Obama, who has met with the Dalai Lama before, refers to him as “a good friend,” much to the dismay of the Chinese government.
Beijing routinely lobbies against any foreign leader meeting with the Dalai Lama “in any form” and in the past has referred to him as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” who aims to split Tibet from the rest of China.
The foreign ministry in Beijing has since launched diplomatic representation to the US Embassy in China. Ministry spokesman Lu Kang explained:
“[This meeting sends] the wrong signal to Tibet independence and separatist forces, and harms China-US mutual trust and cooperation.”
The United States and China are currently embroiled in tense disputes over the South China Sea territorial claims, the recognition of Taiwan and various economic and trade issues.
Professor Liu Peng, a religion expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, spoke of the meeting’s diplomatic importance:
“The meeting is no different from the other conflict points on the chequered history of Sino-US relations that have made Beijing unhappy, or even outraged.”
Lui elaborated that the U.S. did not want to weaken relations with China, but Washington’s frustration over Beijing’s refusal to change their stance on the South China Sea dispute was clear.
The Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since the failed 1959 uprising, has maintained his desire for Tibetan autonomy rather than full independence.