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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

No Time for the Dalai Lama

October 8, 2009

Obama is willing to anger China on tire tariffs but not on Tibet.
WSJ - October 4, 2009

In nearly nine months in office, President Obama has found time to meet with
Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega and Vladimir Putin. But this week he'll have no
time to see the Dalai Lama, a peaceful religious leader who has for decades
been a friend to the United States and an advocate of human rights for
China's six million Tibetans.

Mr. Obama's slight is the first time a sitting president will not meet with
the Dalai Lama during a Washington visit since President George H.W. Bush
met with him in 1991. No meeting was ever formally on the agenda for this
week, but the exiled Tibetan leader's trip to Washington had been planned
for years, and earlier this year he had expressed his hope to meet with the
President. Last month, White House aide Valerie Jarrett and Maria Otero,
undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, traveled to
Dharamsala to confer with the Dalai Lama. The next day, the Dalai Lama's
office announced his hope that he might meet with Mr. Obama after November,
when Mr. Obama will visit Beijing.

As a White House official explained it: "Both the Dalai Lama and we agree
that a stable and positive U.S.-China relationship will help advance
progress on the Tibet issue, and that a meeting after the President's trip
would further the likelihood of making progress on Tibetan issues." In other
words, not offending Chinese President Hu Jintao is a higher U.S. priority,
at least on Tibet. By contrast, Mr. Obama was more than willing to risk
offending China by imposing tariffs on Chinese tires last month to please
his union supporters.

This is of a piece with Mr. Obama's other human-rights backsteps, in
particular his muted support for democracy in Iran. The Dalai Lama has met
with the sitting U.S. President a dozen times, as well as with Members of
Congress from both sides of the aisle (including a certain Senator Obama in
2005). Although Beijing complained about these meetings, there were no
serious costs to the U.S.-China relationship. George W. Bush met with the
Dalai Lama in May of his first year in office, in advance of his first trip
to China, and thereafter made clear that meetings with him were
nonnegotiable.

These Presidential meetings are important because they affirm the religious
and democratic freedoms America stands for, while setting a precedent for
the rest of the world. China routinely assails countries whose leaders meet
with the Dalai Lama, targeting France and Germany in recent years by cutting
off diplomatic exchanges, canceling conferences and the like. Perhaps the
Administration is hoping for a return favor from Beijing for snubbing the
man Chinese leaders label a "splittist" and a "wolf in sheep's clothing."
But rewarding China's bullying only encourages such tactics.

On Wednesday in Washington, the Dalai Lama will honor the late Julia Taft,
who spoke out against Chinese abuses in Tibet as coordinator on Tibetan
issues in the Clinton Administration. He'll also meet with House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi, and perhaps he can wave at the White House on his way to
Capitol Hill. It's becoming clear that Mr. Obama's definition of
"engagement" leaves plenty of room to meet with dictators, but less for the
men and women who challenge them.
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