Is the Obama-Dalai Lama Meeting a Snub to China?

Both sides could just be posturing

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As a religious leader and popular figure in the West, the Dalai Lama regularly meets with U.S. presidents. But these visits from the Tibetan leader--a political exile from China--infuriate Chinese officials, and predictably cause diplomatic friction. China, the story goes, doesn't want the U.S. to elevate the Tibetan cause by giving him a platform.

On Thursday, President Obama meets with the Dalai Lama in the White House despite Chinese complaints. The meeting was originally scheduled for this fall but was canceled so as not cause trouble before Obama's trip to China.

  • White House Minimizing Offense to China   Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating writes, "the White House is taking steps to make clear that the Dalai Lama is being received as an 'internationally respected religious leader and spokesman for Tibetan rights' rather than a head of state. The meeting will take place in the Map Room of the White House rather than the Oval Office, advisors will be present, and there will be no joint press conference afterward. These gestures, intended to avoid unnecessarily offending China, appear to have done little to placate Beijing officials."
  • How To Meet With the Lama Without Alienating China  National Review's Conrad Black suggests emphasizing other areas of cooperation. "If their interests are defined clearly, there need not be antagonism between the U.S. and China," he writes, praising Obama's decision to meet with the Dalai Lama. Those interests are, according to Black, an adherence to free trade.
  • It's A 'Sideshow'  So argues former White House foreign policy adviser Jeffrey Garten. "Whatever fuss is made over the president's meeting with the Dalai Lama today is a sideshow, dwarfed by the need to reorient American policy on many more explosive strategic issues with China. That new multilateral orientation will take hard work over many years. But we are now playing a losing game and we have to change course."
  • How Clinton Handled It   The Wall Street Journal's Andrew Browne explains, "In Bill Clinton's day they were billed as 'drop-by' meetings: The president would pop into White House rooms where Vice President Al Gore, or Hillary Clinton, were receiving the Dalai Lama. The diplomatic sleight of hand was clearly for Beijing's benefit. Strictly speaking, the meetings weren't on Clinton's official calendar. He was just swinging by to add to the conversation. It demonstrated the administration's concern for human rights, while nodding to Chinese sensitivities."
  • Dalai Lama's Secret Agenda  The Weekly Standard's Kelley Currie, who once referred to China and North Korea as "naughty pandas," thinks the Dalai Lama seeks "common ground for cooperation with Beijing." However, "the people he leads are likewise becoming less serene, and they are increasingly looking for options other than his Middle Path of non-violence and outreach toward Beijing." She insists Obama pressure China to allow an independent Tibet.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.