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Facing Chinese pressure, White House refuses to cancel Dalai Lama meeting

February 15, 2010

By Agence France-Presse (AFP)
February 13th, 2010

Facing Chinese pressure, White House refuses to
cancel Dalai Lama meetingThe United States has
escalated a mounting row on multiple fronts with
China, refusing Beijing's demand to cancel
President Barack Obama's meeting next week with the Dalai Lama.

The deepening public spat over Tibet, a row over
US arms sales to Taiwan, China's dispute with
Google and trade and currency disagreements, come
at a key diplomatic moment, as Obama seeks
Chinese help to toughen sanctions on Iran.

The White House announced Thursday that Obama
would hold his long-awaited meeting with the
revered Dalai Lama at the White House next week,
drawing an angry reaction from China and a demand
for the invitation to be rescinded.

But Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs signaled the
White House would defy China's warning that the
encounter would damage already strained Sino-US relations.

"I do not know if their specific reaction was to cancel it," Gibbs said.

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"If that was their specific reaction, the meeting
will take place as planned next Thursday."

Obama avoided the Dalai Lama when he was in
Washington in 2009, in an apparent bid to set
relations with Beijing off on a good foot in the
first year of a presidency which included several
meetings with President Hu Jintao.

But he warned Chinese leaders on an inaugural
visit to Beijing in November that he intended to meet the Buddhist monk.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said
earlier that Beijing firmly opposed "the Dalai
Lama visiting the United States and US leaders having contact with him."

"China urges the US... to immediately call off
the wrong decision of arranging for President
Obama to meet with the Dalai Lama... to avoid any
more damage to Sino-US relations."

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet into exile in India in
1959, after a failed uprising against Chinese
rule. He denies he wants independence for Tibet,
insisting he is looking only for "meaningful autonomy."

Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama will take
place in the White House Map Room and not, in an
apparent effort to mollify China, in the Oval
Office, where US presidents normally meet VIPs and visiting government chiefs.

The International Campaign for Tibet said Friday it welcomed the meeting.

"We believe that President Obama understands what
is at stake for the Tibetan people and has a role
to play as the leader of a nation founded on
universal principles of freedom and justice,"
said the campaign's vice president for international advocacy Mary Beth Markey.

The Obama administration has insisted disputes
over Tibet, Taiwan, currency and Google will not
hamper efforts to win the support of China, a
veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council,
on toughened nuclear sanctions against Iran.

China has yet to agree to the concept of
toughened sanctions over Iran's nuclear program,
calling for more negotiations, even as Russia
appears closer to backing the move to punish Tehran.

US officials say that the Sino-US relationship is
mature enough to override disagreements on key
issues but the temperature of public
disagreements has risen sharply in recent days.

The powers have clashed over a 6.4-billion-dollar
US arms deal for Taiwan, with China accusing the
United States of violating the "code of conduct
between nations" with the sale to what it sees as a Chinese territory.

Beijing also has been angered by Washington's
support for Google after the web giant announced
it would no longer abide by China's strict
Internet censorship rules and could quit the country over cyber attacks.

The foreign ministry denied involvement in the
hacking of Gmail accounts and accused Washington
of "double standards" after Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton lamented the restrictions on
China's 384 million Internet users.

Earlier this month, Obama said he planned to be
"much tougher" about enforcing trade rules with
China, and favored constant pressure on Beijing
over opening markets and on currency rates.

China responded by dismissing US "wrongful accusations and pressure."

The Dalai Lama arrives in Washington on February
17. In addition to meeting with the president, he
will receive the Democracy Service Medal from the
National Endowment for Democracy at a February 19
ceremony at the Library of Congress.
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