BEIJING — The Dalai Lama is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday morning — their third meeting in four years and one that will be handled delicately to avoid inflaming relations with China.
No photographs will be allowed of Obama and the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader as they meet on a ground floor room at the White House, and not in the Oval Office. China has retaliated against international leaders who host the Dalai Lama or criticize China’s tight control of Tibet.
Chinese officials didn’t immediately comment on the meeting after it was announced late Thursday, but they reacted harshly when the two last met in 2011.
“This action seriously interfered with China’s internal affairs,” Ma Zhaoxu, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at the time. He added that the meeting has “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and harmed Sino-U.S. relations.”
The Dalai Lama’s meeting with Obama is part of a swing through the United States that will have him meeting privately with Chinese students in California and Minnesota, and speaking to larger groups in Los Angeles, the Silicon Valley and St. Paul.
To prevent retaliation against people in Tibet, he isn’t expected to talk about China’s policies in his homeland. China considers Tibet part of its historic territory, but it has since been accused of extensive human rights violations and brutal tactics in dealing with Tibetan insurrections, including a 1959 rebellion that forced the Dalai Lama to flee to India.
At Santa Clara University in northern California on Monday, the Dalai Lama will be speaking about corporate ethics and compassion at an event sponsored by university’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.
In Minnesota on March 2, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to appear before an audience of 3,700 at St. Thomas University, a Catholic college in St. Paul. Roughly 1,500 tickets that were made available to the general public at $130 apiece reportedly sold out in 7 minutes.
While the Dalai Lama is being careful not to say things in public that could harm his people back in Tibet, the subject of human rights is likely to come up at the White House.
“We are concerned about continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China,” Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement Thursday. She added the United States continues to supports the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” approach to Tibet, which advocates neither assimilation nor independence for Tibetans in Tibet.
In recent years, tension has increased in the region as China has accused Dalai Lama of inciting young Tibetans to set themselves on fire in protest against China. The exiled government has urged its followers not to engage in such protects, but in recent years, 109 Tibetans have died after self immolating.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons