Obama to meet the Dalia Lama

President Obama will meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, on Thursday at the White House despite strong objections from the Chinese government.

The meeting has the potential to complicate Sino-U.S. tensions further, which have been rising in recent months.

China has warned the meeting will certainly damage ties with Washington.

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“It will seriously undermine the Sino-U.S. political relations,” Zhu Weiqun, a senior Communist Party leader in charge of ethnic and religious affairs, said recently. “We will take corresponding action to make relevant countries see their mistakes.”

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The Dalai Lama has said he favors genuine autonomy for Tibetans, not independence for Tibet. Beijing regards the Nobel Peace Prize laureate as a dangerous “separatist,” a politician who wishes to sever Tibet from China.

Obama did not meet with the Dalai Lama during his Washington visit last fall, making it the first time since 1991 a meeting with the U.S. president and Tibetan spiritual leader had not occurred. Ahead of a summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Obama persuaded Tibetan representatives then to postpone the meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Now, the meeting will take place as prickly issues have come between Washington and Beijing, including trade disputes; a recent U.S. arm sales deal for Taiwan, which China considers an illegitimate breakaway province; and a censorship row over Internet search engine Google Inc.

“It’s going to be another event in the recent, one has to say, downward spiral in U.S.-China relations,” said China scholar David Shambaugh.

Obama’s meeting is also troublesome for the Chinese for one other important reason, Shambaugh said.

“He could have met him as a spiritual leader in a neutral place like a church,” he said. “But he is going to receive him in the White House, and that is a political act. And that is going to irritate China very much.”

The Dalai Lama also is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department.

Some analysts said the Chinese could retaliate by cutting off political exchanges as they did after the Dalai Lama met with heads of state from France and Germany. And Hu could turn down an invitation to visit Washington in April.

Neither China nor the United States can afford strained relations, said Douglas Paal, a diplomat and investment banker who has been a presidential adviser on China.

“We both need each other,” Paal said. “We need each other for a number of international security issues — to deal with the global climate crisis, to deal with the global financial crisis.”

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