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China warns Obama over meeting Dalai Lama

November 13, 2009

AP
November 12, 2009

BEIJING -- On the eve of President Barack Obama's
first visit to Asia, China floated a potentially
provocative comparison, likening serfdom in Tibet
to slavery in the U.S. -- an apparent attempt to
gain support for its policies in the Himalayan region.

Invoking Obama's African heritage and Civil War
president Abraham Lincoln, Chinese Foreign
Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday that
Obama should be more sympathetic to its
contention it has brought development and prosperity to Tibet since 1959.

Asked about a possible meeting between Obama and
the Dalai Lama, Qin said the U.S. president
should recognize the exiled Tibetan leader — a
Nobel Peace Prize winner -- as the former head of a slave state.

"In 1959, China abolished the feudal serf system
just as President Lincoln freed the black slaves.
So we hope President Obama more than any other
foreign state leader can have a better
understanding on China's position on opposing the
Dalai's splitting activities," Qin told reporters
at a regularly scheduled news conference.

Many Tibetans reject such arguments, saying Tibet
was an independent state when Chinese communist
troops entered in 1950. They also say that while
Tibetan peasants were required to work on feudal
estates, they enjoyed considerable freedoms and were not slaves.

Chinese officials, including former President
Jiang Zemin, have invoked Lincoln before, but
usually in the context of unification with
Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing claims as its own territory.

Qin's apparently unscripted remarks were the
first known instance of using Lincoln in reference to Tibet and the Dalai Lama.

China routinely excoriates the revered Buddhist
figure as a scourge on his people and says his
ultimate goal is to overthrow Chinese rule and
restore the former feudal theocracy.

The Dalai Lama, who leads a self-declared
government-in-exile in India, says he seeks only
a high level of autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule.

Beijing often protests his travel abroad and his
meetings with heads of state. This week, the
spiritual leader visited a region of India near
the Tibetan border, drawing a sharp rebuke from China.

Obama was criticized for not meeting the Dalai
Lama when the spiritual leader was in Washington
in October, but there is a possibility the two will meet in the future.
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