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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?"

Dalai Lama gets his moment

February 21, 2010

By Eli Clifton and Charles Fromm
Asia Times
February 20, 2010

WASHINGTON - United States President Barack Obama
met with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the
Dalai Lama on Thursday in the White House,
raising objections from China and adding to
existing US-China tensions over Taiwan arms
sales, Internet censorship and hacking, tariffs
on Chinese tires and calls for Beijing to readjust its currency.

The low-profile meeting, which noticeably took
place in the White House Map Room instead of the
Oval Office, was described by the Dalai Lama as
having included discussions on democracy, freedom and human rights.

"The president stated his strong support for the
preservation of Tibet's unique religious,
cultural and linguistic identity and the
protection of human rights for Tibetans in the
People's Republic of China," said a statement released by the White House.

In a concession to Beijing, the White House
postponed the meeting from last year so as not to
hurt relations before Obama's November trip to
China, but state-run media outlets in China and
the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs have expressed displeasure.

"We urge the US to fully recognize the high
sensitivity of Tibet-related issues, strictly
abide by its commitment of recognizing Tibet as
part of China and opposing 'Tibet independence',
cancel immediately the wrong decision of
arranging a meeting between President Obama and
Dalai, not to provide Dalai any arena or
convenience to engage in anti-China splitist
activities, not to undermine the stability of
Tibet and interfere in China's internal affairs
so as to protect China-US relations from being
further undermined," said a statement posted on
the Chinese Foreign Ministry website on February 10.

While the Chinese have expressed opposition, the
meeting in the Map Room was nowhere near as
high-profile - and diplomatically problematic -
as the 2007 decision by US president George W
Bush's to present the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The Chinese responded by pressuring foreign
governments not to host visits from the Dalai
Lama, which led to anti-Beijing protests in
ethnically Tibetan parts of China and a violent
crackdown on protesters by authorities in Tibet.
China went on to list Tibet as one of its "core
interests", a warning to the US and other
countries not to tamper in issues related to Tibetan sovereignty.

"Generally, and despite attempts at nuance in
timing and location of such meetings by White
Houses past and present, Chinese public reactions
rarely seem to moderate in response," said
Charles Freeman, a China expert at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in an
interview on the CSIS website.

Tensions over the Dalai Lama's visit are only the
latest war of words to erupt between Washington
and Beijing in recent months as the two countries
deal with ongoing political, military and economic tensions.

In September, Obama authorized a 35% emergency
tariff on Chinese tire imports in order to curb a
"surge" of Chinese tires which, according to US
trade unions, have cost 7,000 US factory workers
their jobs. Beijing responded quickly to condemn
the US tariffs and threatened to levy its own tariffs against US products.

In January, Google announced that e-mail accounts
owned by diplomats, human-rights activists and
journalists had been infiltrated by Chinese
hackers, leading Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton to deliver a speech outlining the
administration's position on intellectual
property theft, cyber-security and Chinese Internet censorship.

China responded by accusing the US of
"information imperialism" and denied charges that
the government participated in the cyber-attacks.

Earlier this month, the Beijing-Washington
relationship hit another rough patch when China
threatened to impose sanctions on US companies
participating in an upcoming $6.4 billion arms deal with Taiwan.

As the global economic crisis stressed both China
and the US economies, China has sought to shift
the investments from its balance of payments
surplus away from US dollars and into equities
and commodities while Obama has been under
pressure to address the growing trade deficit with China.

With the Dalai Lama's visit comes the latest
round of harsh words between Washington and
Beijing, leaving analysts to try and pick apart
whether the growing political, economic and
military tensions are part of a larger trend or
the symptom of domestic pressures - most likely
stemming from the global financial crisis - on both Chinese and US leadership.

China experts are warning that Chinese President
Hu Jintao may retaliate for Thursday's meeting by
canceling his scheduled trip to Washington in
April to attend the Nuclear Security Summit.

Indeed, the tensions between China and the US
have growing global importance as cooperation
between the two countries is crucial on a number
of multilateral issues, including combating
climate change, engineering a recovery from the
global financial crisis and addressing the
nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran -
although Tehran denies that it is pursuing military capabilities.

Managing this increasingly important and
complicated relationship will require changes
from both Beijing and Washington in how they
conduct diplomacy in the bilateral relationship.

"For Chinese leaders, that will mean drawing a
fine line between rhetoric and reality, limiting
protests to gestures for their domestic audience
even as they work with the United States on a
number of fronts," wrote Douglas H Paal, vice
president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment
for International Peace, in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

"For its part, the United States must maintain
its principled commitment to human rights but
also demonstrate some restraint on issues China
considers 'core interests'," he said.
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