Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu issued a statement Friday, urging the United States to, in his words, “immediately withdraw” plans for a meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama.
Ma indicated that the meeting could further hurt Sino-American relations, which are already strained because of a U.S. arms sale to Taiwan, disagreements over China’s currency exchange rate and U.S. concerns over Chinese internet censorship.
Zhu Weiqun, the vice-minister of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, which handles Tibet issues, recently made the same point.
Zhu says if the U.S. leader chooses to meet with the Dalai Lama, it will threaten trust and cooperation between China and the United States.
The White House Thursday confirmed that President Obama will meet the Dalai Lama on February 18, despite China’s objections. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Mr. Obama will meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader, a fellow Nobel laureate, as an internationally respected religious figure.
The United States recognizes Tibet as a part of China, but has urged Beijing and the Dalai Lama to talk together to address differences over the region’s future.
China took over Tibet in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled to exile in India in 1959, after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in his homeland. China considers the Dalai Lama a separatist and has tried to isolate him by urging foreign leaders not to meet with him.
The Dalai Lama repeatedly has said he is not seeking independence for Tibet, but instead wants what he describes as a high level of genuine autonomy for his homeland.
China has sent hundreds of millions of dollars in development aid to Tibet, in an effort to ensure stability by actively raising living standards there. Tibetan exiles accuse the Chinese government of discriminating against and repressing their culture and religion.