China demanded that President Obama cancel a meeting Friday with the Dalai Lama, but it went ahead as scheduled at the White House, albeit in low-key fashion.
Ignoring Beijing’s warning that the meeting would severely harm U.S.-China relations, Obama met the Tibetan spiritual leader in the Map Room of the White House. It was the president’s third such meeting with the Dalai Lama and the first of his second term. Obama last met the Dalai Lama in July 2011.
“The Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the cloak of religion,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Friday in a statement before the White House meeting. “By arranging a meeting between the president and the Dalai Lama, the U.S. side will grossly interfere in the internal affairs of China, seriously violate norms governing international relations and severely impair China-U.S. relations.”
On Thursday, the White House played down the political aspect of the visit.
“The president will meet with the Dalai Lama in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden in a statement to news organizations.
“The United States supports the Dalai Lama’s ‘middle way’ approach of neither assimilation nor independence for Tibetans in China,” she said. “We will continue to urge the Chinese government to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions, as a means to reduce tensions.”
The White House did not officially announce the meeting with the Dalai Lama until late Thursday. The exiled Buddhist monk, a 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner, is visiting the United States on a speaking tour.
China has long history of angry reactions to foreign leaders’ meetings with the Dalai Lama. Among its more dramatic responses, China curtailed some diplomatic ties with Britain in 2012 after Prime Minister David Cameron met the Dalai Lama.
But with the United States, China has not followed through with equally strong measures.
On Friday, hours after China issued its demands for Obama to call off the meeting, U.S. and Chinese military leaders announced separately that they planned to establish regular dialogue between their armies.
The announcement came during a visit to Beijing by Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. Army chief of staff.
“I have a very positive opinion on our future relationship as we develop the army dialogue,” Odierno told Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, according to the Associated Press.
Among the issues the two military leaders hope to discuss is increased educational exchanges and cooperation in peacekeeping.