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Chinese taunt Obama with Tibet 'slavery'

November 17, 2009

US President must soothe prickly hosts while talking tough on the economy
By Clifford Coonan in Beijing
The Independent (UK)
November 16, 2009

As US President Barack Obama arrived in Shanghai
last night, on his first visit to China, his
celebrated eloquence is set to get a major
work-out as he tries to balance the need to
underline strong Sino-US ties with the need to
emphasise Washington's global role in the face of
growing Chinese economic muscle.

Climate change, trade and the value of the
Chinese currency will feature on the agenda
during the visit. The President will try to avoid
confrontation while he is in the country that is,
from a strategic point of view, probably the most
important stopping-point on his nine-day Asian tour .

Mr Obama got a taste of the tone of his hosts'
arguments on the Tibet question even before he
had touched down yesterday. A Foreign Ministry
spokesman, Qin Gang, made the remarkable argument
that Mr Obama should be especially sympathetic to
China's opposition to the Dalai Lama because he
is a black President who has lauded Abraham
Lincoln for helping abolish slavery.

"He is a black President, and he understands the
slavery abolition movement and Lincoln's major
significance for that movement," Qin Gang said.
"Lincoln played an incomparable role in
protecting the national unity and territorial
integrity of the United States." The implication
was that the Dalai Lama and his fellow members of
the Tibetan monastic hierarchy had, prior to
their going into exile, been slave-masters.

The allegation drew a furious rebuff from the
Free Tibet Campaign. "It is an insult for the
unelected and authoritarian Chinese government to
suggest that an instinctive democrat such as
Abraham Lincoln would have sided with China in
seeking to deny the Tibetan people their
fundamental right to determine their own future,
" said the group's Stephanie Brigden.

But China's status as the largest foreign lender
to the US means Mr Obama must tread warily,
especially as the rising superpower is expected
to become the world's second largest economy next
year. Washington and Beijing have already had a
row over exchange rates at the summit of the Asia
Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Singapore at the weekend.

A reference to "market-oriented exchange rates"
was cut from the communique issued at the end of
two days of talks, because the two sides could not agree on the wording.

The White House has already said Mr Obama will
raise the difficult issue of whether China's yuan
currency is undervalued, and other trade issues.
For Americans, as for many countries in the
region, the continuing low value of the Chinese
yuan is a major irritant in terms of competitiveness.

Since Mr Obama announced special duties of 35 per
cent on Chinese-made tyre imports in September,
there have been trade tensions in various other
sectors also. Meanwhile Chinese officials point
out that as joblessness remains high in the
United States, protectionist pressures are likely
to continue to influence American policy,

Despite these tensions, Mr Obama will try to
enlist Beijing's help on global economic
recovery, and on burning security issues such as
deflating North Korea's nuclear ambitions, and
also on dealing with Iran. "The United States
does not seek to contain China," he said
yesterday. "On the contrary, the rise of a
strong, prosperous China can be a source of
strength for the community of nations."

He went on, "I see China as a vital partner, as
well as a competitor... Together we are
encouraging responsible behaviour around the world."
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