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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Dalai Lama sparks standoff between U.S., China

February 19, 2010

China is angry about Tibetan spiritual leader's
low-key trip to U.S., but both sides recognize
need to avoid major rupture in relations
Paul Koring
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
February 18, 2010

Two Nobel Peace Prize winners will meet Thursday
behind closed doors at the White House as Barack
Obama seeks a low profile for his belated encounter with the Dalai Lama.

The President already snubbed the 74-year-old
exiled Tibetan leader once -- refusing to see him
last fall prior to Mr. Obama's visit to China,
where the Dalai Lama is regarded as a
secessionist threat. It was the first time since
1991 that a U.S. President declined to meet the
Dalai Lama during one of his occasional trips to the United States.

A predictable brouhaha ensued, with critics
accusing the President of trying too hard to
avoid offending Beijing's Communist leaders.

Thursday's meeting will be low key -- in contrast
with the very public welcome then-president
George W. Bush gave the Dalai Lama in 2007. No
cameras will be allowed, although White House
officials say a photograph of the meeting will be released.

The visit is a carefully choreographed piece of
political theatre with both Beijing and
Washington playing out their chosen roles. Even
as the Dalai Lama headed for the White House
despite Beijing's loud protestations, thousands
of U.S. sailors from the nuclear-powered aircraft
carrier USS Nimitz streamed ashore in Hong Kong,
as China signalled a resumption of naval visits
less than two weeks after it suspended military exchanges.

Relations between the superpowers hit a bad patch
in recent weeks, most recently over Mr. Obama's
decision to ship $6.4-billion (U.S.) worth of
weapons to Taiwan, which Beijing denounced as
“rude interference in China's internal affairs,
severely endangering China's national security."

That came on the heels of claims by the search
engine Google that China's security agents had
hacked into the e-mail accounts of dissidents.
The cyber attacks were – according to some U.S.
experts – also aimed at stealing industrial
secrets from major U.S. corporations.

The accusations of cyber attacks lifted the
dispute from a corporate tiff to a
national-security issue for the White House. Mr.
Obama wants “some answers” and believes those
responsible should “face consequences,: a White House spokesman said.

But China experts believe that despite the
irritants -- both new and long-standing --
Washington and Beijing need to constructively
manage what is emerging as the world's most important bilateral relationship.

"Both sides will want to avoid any serious
rupture in relations, which is of paramount
importance to their needs to work together on
climate change, the financial crisis, and other
issues,” Robert Barnett, director of the modern
Tibetan studies program at Columbia University,
said in an online interview posted at the Council on Foreign Relations.

With the "Three Ts" of Tibet, Taiwan and trade
all roiling the Sino-American relationship in
recent months, it may be that both Beijing and
Washington are looking for some chances to mend fences.

The Obama administration desperately needs
China's support (or at least a willingness to sit
on its hands and abstain) to toughen sanctions on
Iran over that country's nuclear defiance. But
even without the need for joint leadership on
multilaterals issues, such as managing climate
change, both behemoths increasingly can't afford
to let their relationship sour.

As China's wealth and power grows, it seems
inevitable that its interests will overlap, or
even clash, with America's. While the risk of
confrontation remains remote, Beijing has also
been occasionally assertive in demonstrating its
military prowess. It sent political shock waves
around the globe three years ago when it launched
one satellite that destroyed another.

Mostly, the two countries have managed to avoid uncontained political fallout.

Thursday's meeting, which Beijing demanded last
week be scrubbed, is far less offensive to China
than the very public session with Mr. Bush.

The U.S. sailors thronging Hong Kong bars and
shops may not realize that they are Beijing's way
of getting past the latest visit of an aging monk.
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