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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?"

Analysis: Obama to meet Dalai Lama, upset China

February 5, 2010

Diplomacy; U.S. President has few options to back down
Peter Goodspeed
The National Post (Canada)
February 3, 2010

To most in the West, the 75-year-old Dalai Lama
is the world's most prominent political refugee,
a spiritual leader to six million Tibetan
Buddhists and a Nobel Peace Price winner. Canada
has made him an honorary citizen, and the United
States gave him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

To China's leaders he is "a wolf in monk's
robes," a splitist, a former slave master and a dangerous separatist.

Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, has
insisted on several occasions shunning the Dalai
Lama should be considered one of the "basic
principles of international relations."

So it came as no real surprise yesterday when
Chinese officials warned Barack Obama any meeting
with the Dalai Lama will "seriously undermine the
political foundation of Sino-U. S. relations."

Zhu Weiqun, deputy chief of the Communist Party's
United Front, which steers ethnic affairs, issued
the ultimatum during a Beijing news conference.

"We oppose any attempt by foreign forces to
interfere in China's internal affairs using the
Dalai Lama as an excuse," he said. "If the U.S.
leader chooses to meet with the Dalai Lama, at
this time, it will certainly threaten trust and
cooperation between China and the United States."

"If that comes to pass, then China will be
strongly opposed as always," he added. "How would
that help the United States surmount the current economic crisis?"

The White House confirmed yesterday the U.S.
President would meet the Dalai Lama, but did not
give a date. There is speculation it could be
during his lecture tour, which starts Feb. 21.

Mr. Obama passed up a meeting last fall before
his first visit to China, but told Chinese
officials in Beijing "he intends to do so."

A meeting now, just days after Washington
announced plans to sell US$6.4-billion worth of
weapons to Taiwan and while the United States and
China are embroiled in disputes over trade,
currency values, control of the Internet and
China's jailing of dissidents, will further infuriate Beijing.

But it is virtually impossible for Mr. Obama to
be seen backing away from an encounter because of China's wrath.

Every U.S. president since George H.W. Bush has
met the Tibetan spiritual leader, but most have
downplayed the meetings out of consideration for Beijing.

The senior Mr. Bush and Bill Clinton had
unofficial meetings, "dropping in" as the Tibetan
monk was visiting a senior advisor.

George W. Bush's meeting took place in his
private White House residence, avoiding a more public event in the Oval Office.

In 2007, however, Mr. Bush broke with tradition
and awarded the Dalai Lama the Congressional
Medal of Honor in a public ceremony.

Other less-powerful states have felt China's
anger over dealings with the Dalai Lama.

Last March, South Africa, fearing a Chinese
boycott of the World Cup and trade sanctions,
refused to issue the Dalai Lama a visa to attend a peace conference.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, had two
top-level meetings with Chinese officials
canceled after she met the Dalai Lama in September 2007.

Beijing also scrapped a summit with the European
Union last March after Nicolas Sarkozy, the
French President and then-head of the EU, refused
to pull out of a meeting with the Dalai Lama at a
Nobel laureates' conference in Poland.

A month later, crowds rioted in front of French
stores in China after pro-Tibet activists
disrupted the Paris leg of the Beijing Olympic torch relay.

Even Canada has found itself doing a diplomatic shuffle with the Dalai Lama.

In 2004, prime minister Paul Martin met the
Tibetan spiritual leader, but the encounter was low-key.

Two years later, the new Conservative government
of Stephen Harper infuriated China by awarding
the Dalai Lama honourary Canadian citizenship.

In 2007, Canada-China relations plunged into a
deep chill, when Mr. Harper met the Dalai Lama
for 40 minutes in his office, and invited
television cameras and photographers to record the event.

"This kind of disgusting conduct from Canada has
seriously hurt Chinese people's feelings and
seriously undermined Sino-Canadian relations,"
said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Last September, when the Dalai Lama paid a return
visit to Canada, he had no meetings with Mr.
Harper or Lawrence Cannon, the Foreign Affairs
Minister. Governor-General Michaelle Jean, who
was supposed to appear with him at a peace conference in Vancouver, cancelled.

Denmark probably holds the distinction for the
most groveling climbdown after the Dalai Lama
meeting with its prime minister last May triggered a small trade war.

By December, in a bid to ensure China's
attendance at the Copenhagen climate change
summit, Denmark promised to act with "caution" in
future contacts with the Dali Lama and declared
it is "fully aware of the importance and sensitivity of Tibet-related issues."

Don't expect Mr. Obama to follow suit.

But he may still try to find a way to deflect
China's wrath, if only to salvage a Washington
summit with Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, tentatively scheduled for April.

pgoodspeed@nationalpost.com
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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