China is angry about Obama meeting the Dalai Lama. But the U.S. shouldn’t worry.


China has said that hosting the Dalai Lama at the White House would impair its relations with the U.S. (AP)

China has warned the United States that if President Obama does not scrap plans to meet exiled Tibetan leader Dalai Lama, it will "seriously damage" U.S.-China relations. The meeting would be "a gross interference" in China's internal matters, the warning said, and asked the White House to not provide him with a platform.

Should the United States worry? Probably not: This isn't the first time a sitting U.S. president would be meeting the exiled Tibetan leader. And this is certainly not the first time China has cried foul. China released a similar statement the last time Obama met with the Dalai Lama, in 2011, but it did not result in any appreciable fallout, as Beijing was keen to avoid tensions, according to Reuters.

"I think China will send a strong message of protest publicly and privately, trying to warn President Obama to not go too far, because we still have a major, new relationship to build," said Sun Zhe, director of the Center for U.S.-China Relations at Tsinghua University, in an interview with Reuters.

Since 1991, the Dalai Lama has met with the U.S. presidents at least 12 times, according to the International Campaign for Tibet, including five meetings with President George W. Bush. The organization has compiled list of dates and statements from the White House on each of those meetings.

George H. W. Bush

President George H.W. Bush meets with the Dalai Lama at the White House on April 16, 1991. (International Campaign for Tibet)
President George H.W. Bush meets with the Dalai Lama at the White House on April 16, 1991. (Courtesy of the International Campaign for Tibet)

Two years after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, President George H.W. Bush became the first U.S. president to meet with the Dalai Lama. The White House did not allow journalists any photographs from the meeting. Since then, he has been hosted by every U.S. president. "The Dalai Lama asked to meet with the President. He’s the religious leader of the country. The President felt it was appropriate to see him," according to the White House news briefing.

Bill Clinton


President Clinton listens to the Dalai Lama during their meeting at the White House on Nov. 10, 1998. (AP)

President Bill Clinton met with the Dalai Lama on four occasions: in 1993, 1997, 1998 and 2000. Following the meeting between the two leaders in 1997, China released a statement that said: "We are strongly dissatisfied with the United States for allowing the Dalai Lama to carry out splittist activities in the United States, and with U.S. leaders for meeting with him."

George W. Bush


President Bush and the Dalai Lama look up in the Capitol Rotunda on Capitol Hill on Oct. 17, 2007, during the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring the Dalai Lama. (AP)

President George W. Bush met with the Dalai Lama at least five times during his presidency. China repeatedly warned that hosting the Tibetan leader would sour Sino-U.S. relations but it stopped short of threatening concrete action. "We are furious," a Communist Party secretary for Tibet said after Bush met with the Dalai Lama in 2007. Two years ago, during an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, the exiled leader said he loved President Bush "as a human being. Not as president of America."

Barack Obama


President Obama meets with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House on Feb. 18, 2010. (Pete Souza/The White House)

A year after taking office, Obama canceled his plans to meet with the Dalai Lama, raising eyebrows in Washington, as some accused him of appeasing China. Since then, the president has met with the Dalai Lama twice, in 2010 and 2011, during which he praised the spiritual leader for his commitment to non-violence. China expressed its disappointment by releasing a statement that said: "By allowing the Dalai Lama to visit the U.S. and arranging the top leader to meet him, the United States has seriously violated basic principles of international relations and its own repeated solemn pledges, and harmed Sino-U.S. relations. China therefore expresses its strong indignation and firm opposition."

Ahead of Friday's reception, the White House has tried to play down the meeting between the two leaders, saying Obama will will meet with the Dalai Lama "in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader."

Anup Kaphle is the Post's digital foreign editor. He has an M.S. degree in journalism from Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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