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Bush to Meet With Dalai Lama Today

October 16, 2007

WASHINGTON, 16 Oct, (AP) — President Bush and the Dalai Lama will meet
today with a ceremony planned for tomorrow to award the spiritual
leader the Congressional Gold Medal. China is warning that the events
are bad for U.S.-Chinese ties.

The Dalai Lama is the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet's Buddhists.
While the Dalai Lama is lauded in much of the world as a figure of
moral authority, Beijing reviles the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate
and claims he seeks to destroy China's sovereignty by pushing for
independence for Tibet, where the Dalai Lama is considered a god-king.

The Dalai Lama's special envoy, Lodi Gyari, said images of the U.S.
president standing beside the Dalai Lama at the congressional ceremony
will send a clear message that "people do care about Tibet. We have
not been forgotten."

"I have no doubt this will give tremendous encouragement and hope to
the Tibetan people," he told reporters ahead of the visit. It also
"sends a powerful message to China that the Dalai Lama is not going to
go away."

The Dalai Lama says he wants "real autonomy," not independence, for
Tibet. But China demonizes the spiritual leader and believes the
United States is honoring a separatist. The Dalai Lama's U.S. visit
comes as China holds its important Communist Party congress.

Chinese diplomats have worked doggedly since the U.S. award was voted
on last year to get the ceremony and meeting with Bush scrapped and to
"correct this mistake," said Wang Baodong, spokesman for the Chinese
Embassy in Washington.

"We are certainly very much displeasured and regret the fact that the
U.S. side would totally ignore the repeated positions of the Chinese
side and go ahead with its erroneous decision," Wang said in an
interview. "Such moves on the U.S. side are not a good thing for the
bilateral relationship."

A State Department official said Monday that China was protesting U.S.
honors for the Dalai Lama by pulling out of an international strategy
session on Iran sought by the United States and planned for Wednesday.

China objected to participating in the meeting on the day that the
Buddhist leader was to receive the congressional honor, said the U.S.
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe another
country's motives.

Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals
for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals or
institutions. Recent winners have included civil rights icon Rosa
Parks; former President Reagan and his wife, Nancy; cartoonist Charles
M. Schulz; Gen. Henry Shelton, and former British Prime Minister Tony

Congress has long championed the Dalai Lama; lawmakers also regularly
criticize Beijing for human rights abuses and a massive military
buildup and claims that China ignores abuse by unsavory foreign
regimes in its pursuit of energy deals.

The Bush administration also finds fault with China but is usually
more measured as it seeks to manage a booming trade relationship and a
desire to enlist Chinese cooperation on nuclear standoffs with North
Korea and Iran.

Bush has met several times privately with the Dalai Lama, and,
analysts say, his decision to attend the public congressional ceremony
reflects his worry over the situation in Tibet.

Judith Shapiro, a China author and professor at American University,
says the visit is "not going to profoundly affect ties in either
direction. China needs the U.S., the U.S. needs China, and issues like
Tibet are a bit of a sideshow to the basic relationship."

On Monday, dozens of people, some dressed in brightly colored
traditional Tibetan robes and hats, greeted the Dalai Lama at a
downtown Washington hotel. The Dalai Lama gave his blessing to people
in the crowd and tasted some rice that had been prepared for him.

Bush supports the Dalai Lama's visit, although the White House tried
to ameliorate Chinese anger before the Tibetan priest's arrival. Bush
told Chinese President Hu Jintao at a recent meeting that he would be
welcoming the spiritual leader to Washington.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino recently told reporters that Bush
"understands that the Chinese have concerns about this."

"We would hope that the Chinese leader would get to know the Dalai
Lama as the president sees him — as a spiritual leader and someone who
wants peace," she said.

The Dalai Lama is immensely popular in Tibet, which China has ruled
with a heavy hand since its communist-led forces invaded in 1951. He
has been based in India since fleeing his Himalayan homeland in 1959
amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

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