Join our Mailing List

"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Editorial: Dalai Lama's Visit -- US-China ties unaffected

March 2, 2010

Central Chronicle (India)
February 28, 2010

Recently, there have been more than adequate
media spotlight on the strained relationship
between the United States and China. The two
countries have been sparring on various issues,
ranging from internet censorship, human rights,
US arms sale to Taiwan and over the contentious
issue of currency rates. President Barack Obama's
visit to Beijing last year created much bonhomie,
giving some sleepless nights to Indian strategic
circles. But the difference of perspectives and
policy that surround Sino-American relations are here to stay.

Apart from the aforementioned issues, the US and
China have serious differences over the diffusion
of the North Korean and Iranian nuclear issue.
Now, add to this the US President's recent
meeting with the Tibetan exiled spiritual leader
the Dalai Lama and we have a picture-perfect
recipe highlighting the cracks widening in US-China relations.

Though America does not refute that Tibet is a
part of China, it nevertheless supports the
integrity and ethos of the non-violent and
pro-democracy struggle being led by the Dalai
Lama. But, the Chinese government on the other
hand, sees the Dalai Lama, as a trouble-maker and
a separatist leader ought to negate China's
sovereignty and split its unity. As such, Beijing
has been very categorical and adamant in
objecting to any US President meeting the Tibetan
leader. It regards it as an official support to
the Tibetan separatist movement and has time and
again threatened that such a gesture would be
seen as directed against the sovereignty of China
and would invite serious repercussions.

Now, the big question is: Would the meeting
between President Obama and the Dalai Lama
necessarily destabilize US-China relations? The
answer: "Not really". Chinese outrages against
any American overture towards the Tibetan leader
and corresponding American denial of Chinese
threats and pressures has become too
characteristic of the bilateral relationship.
President Obama knew that a meeting with the
Dalai Lama is an important menu in the itinerary
of America's commitment to human right issues.

He has already procrastinated on the quite
imminent meeting. Ahead of his last year visit to
China; the US President had reportedly persuaded
Tibetan representatives then to postpone the
meeting with the Dalai Lama. This time around,
Obama exactly knew what he was up to. The
reaction was swift with the Chinese Foreign
Ministry saying, "The US act grossly violated the
norms governing international relations."
According to the Chinese government, the meeting
contradicted US commitments to recognize China's
sovereignty over Tibet and refrain from
supporting separatist forces. But these
allegations are not new. The Dalai Lama has met
with every US president since George H.W. Bush in
1991 and these meetings attracted ire from the Chinese government.

So, there is no reason to expect that the recent
niceties provided to the Dalai Lama by the Obama
Administration are going to seriously rock the
boat of Sino-American bilateral relations. It is
true that the controversy has come at a wrong
time when the relationship is already strained
over a number of issues, but then US-China
relations have never been easy, and not very
friendly either. The relationship can rather be
characterized as a marriage of convenience and
has withstood a number of more volatile differences.

The symbolic welcome and respect given to the
preservation of Tibet's cultural identity and the
protection of their human rights cannot, in
practical estimates, derail the highly entrenched
US-China relations. Talking of estimates and
statistics, the economic linkages is tightly knit
by $366 billion worth of mutual trade and $755
billion in Chinese-held US Treasury bills. As
such, the rhetoric and aggressive statements have
become routine fodder given to the media and
stand no chances of drastically impacting the
course of the relationship. In fact, the absence
of such aggression from the Chinese government
and the failure of the US government to bypass
them would make them look out of character.

The Obama administration has had a tough time
dealing with the Chinese side, especially after
the US plan to sell arms worth $ 6.4 billion to
Taiwan and China's rebuff of President Obama's
call to strengthen the Chinese currency. The US
establishment was quite aware and cautious of
what was in store after the Dalai Lama-Obama
meeting and as such, the whole programme was
designed to tone down the official significance
of the proceedings, and lend a more casual feel.
The US President met with the Tibetan spiritual
leader in the Map Room, which is part of the
residence at the White House, and not in the Oval
Office. The economics of the US-China
relationship has always overshadowed all other
issues and the near future will be no different.

American responses to human rights violations in
the Chinese mainland have been lukewarm at best,
and have never really threatened to jeopardize
the larger political and economic linkages. The
Tibetan spiritual leader seemed content after the
meeting and commented that he wasn't frustrated
about the pace of progress for autonomy in Tibet.
Asked how Obama can help Tibet, the Dalai Lama
said, "time will tell."Many analysts are of the
opinion that the bilateral ties will sustain the current differences.

It is worthwhile remembering that amid all the
ticklish issues that now surround the
relationship, the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and
four other U.S. warships recently anchored in
Hong Kong, where more than 5,000 sailors will get
shore leave. In 2007, China had prevented the USS
Kitty Hawk from visiting the city, showing
Chinese displeasure at President George W. Bush
meeting the Dalai Lama and presenting him with
the Congressional Gold Medal. Although Beijing
belatedly approved the port-call, the fleet had
already turned back. The point is that both the
countries cannot afford to lose the track and
jeopardize the economic symbiosis that exists.

According to Douglas Paal of the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace, "U.S. exports
are zooming to China. It's the largest export
market for the U.S. -- largest growing export
market for the U.S. It grew 65 per cent this past
year alone." In spite of disagreements about the
Dalai Lama and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, neither
China nor the US, Paal says, can afford a major
falling out. As per a recently-conducted national
CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, nearly
three-quarters of all Americans think Tibet
should be an independent country. But at the same
time, the poll indicates that most Americans
think it is more important to maintain good
relations with China than to take a stand on Tibet.

Visits of the Dalai Lama are always under the
Chinese government's scanner and they have a
perpetual displeasure towards other countries
receiving the exiled leader. Though, any
reception given to the Dalai Lama often ignites
heated diplomatic rhetoric, it has seldom led to
the Chinese government jeopardizing its economic
interest. In the final analysis, it is business
as usual in US-China relations and one should not
read too much into the implications of President
Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama. The
diplomatic rhetoric and the heated exchange of
statements are rather routine affair to keep dissenting voices in control.

Monish Tourangbam, INFA
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank