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"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?"

US, China and Dalai Lama

September 28, 2009

By Frank Ching Journalist, Commentator in Hong Kong

Korea Times - September 27, 2009

Barack Obama made history last year when he became the first
African-American to be elected president of the United States.

Next month, he will make history again -- of a different sort. He will
become the first president not to meet with the Dalai Lama when the Tibetan
leader visits Washington.

Ever since April 1991, when then President George H.W. Bush met the Nobel
laureate, he has been received by the American president, regardless of
party. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush met the Buddhist monk each time
he came to the American capital.

However, China has been sending signals to warn President Obama not to meet
with the Dalai Lama in October, when he is scheduled to visit Washington.

And Sept. 14, the president sent a delegation led by White House adviser
Valerie Jarrett and Under Secretary of State Maria Otero, who has been
designated special coordinator for Tibetan issues, to Dharamsala in India to
meet the Tibetan leader to explain the Obama administration's Tibet policy.

They explained that because Obama is scheduled to pay his first visit to
China in November, it would be better not to meet the Dalai Lama in October.
Instead, they said, there could be a meeting after Obama's China trip.

The Obama administration no doubt remembers that last year, after French
President Nicolas Sarkozy defied China by announcing that he would meet the
Tibetan spiritual leader, Beijing canceled a summit meeting with the
European Union, of which Sarkozy at that time held the rotating presidency.
That meeting was only rescheduled five months later.

Of course, the United States was in a much stronger position vis-a-vis China
in the 1990s. Beijing was fearful of losing its most-favored-nation trading
status and desirous of American support for it to join the World Trade
Organization.

Now, Beijing is Washington's biggest creditor and the United States wants
China to continue to lend it money by buying Treasury bonds.

The American officials assured the Dalai Lama that President Obama would
raise the Tibetan issue in his talks with Chinese leaders.

Ms. Jarrett also conveyed the president's commitment ``to support the
Tibetan people in protecting their distinct religious, linguistic and
cultural heritage and securing respect for their human rights and civil
liberties.''

She also said that Washington would be in a better position to seek progress
for the dialogue between representatives of the Dalai Lama and Beijing, as
well as improvements in human rights in Tibet, if there was a strong
U.S.-China relationship.

The Dalai Lama did not disagree. In fact, he expressed his appreciation for
Obama's concern for the situation in Tibet and hoped that during the Obama
presidency, ``the Tibetan people can see progress in the resolution of their
problem.''

But what does the Tibetan government-in-exile really think of Obama's
decision not to meet the Dalai Lama?

``A lot of nations are adopting a policy of appeasement,'' Samdhong
Rinpoche, head of the exile government, told journalists. ``Even the U.S.
government is doing some kind of appeasement. Today, economic interests are
much greater than other interests.''

Now that Obama's actions have brought about charges of appeasement, he will
have to show that his desire not to provoke China before his Beijing visit
is worthwhile.

That means he will not only have to raise the Tibet issue during his talks
in China but he will have to show that he made progress, especially on the
Tibet issue, during his visit. Otherwise, he will be widely condemned for
sacrificing the interests of Tibetans for other gains.

Of course, future events may show that this was a wise tactic. But, on the
face of it, Obama stands to lose more than he may gain. He has made a
pre-emptive concession to China and it remains to be seen whether he will
have anything to show for it.

Moreover, the United States has made it clear that a meeting with the Dalai
Lama has simply been deferred until after November. This will not
necessarily please China.

After all, it was Sarkozy's announcement that he would meet the Tibetan
leader that led to the cancellation of the EU summit. What China wants is an
end to all meetings with the Dalai Lama rather than simply rescheduling
them.

In any event, there is now a precedent. China is likely to put more, not
less, pressure on the United States in the future not to meet with the Dalai
Lama, and indeed not to do anything of which Beijing may disapprove.
Hopefully, the visit to Beijing in November will show that this was a risk
worth taking.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer whose book, ``Ancestors: 900 Years
in the Life of a Chinese Family,'' has just been reissued in paperback.
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