President Obama held a closed-door meeting with the Dalai Lama on Saturday, despite the strong objections of the Chinese government.
The 45-minute session in the White House Map Room broke little ground on policy. In a statement released after the meeting, the White House said Obama reiterated the U.S. position that Tibet is a part of China but that he supports “the preservation of the unique religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions of Tibet and the Tibetan people throughout the world.”
Obama restated that the United States does not support Tibetan independence.
But Chinese officials complained about Obama meeting with the influential spiritual leader, as they have when other U.S. presidents have met with him. The Chinese oppose greater autonomy for Tibet, which the Dalai Lama supports, and say foreign leaders should not meet with him.
“The issue regarding Tibet concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we firmly oppose any foreign official to meet with the Dalai Lama in any form,” a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said Saturday, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
The Chinese also criticized Obama when he met with the Dalai Lama in February 2010. This time, the Dalai Lama was on the last day of a 11-day visit to Washington during which he participated in a Buddhist ceremony called the Kalachakra.
He had already met with congressional leaders, including House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio.)
The Dalai Lama, in remarks distributed by the International Campaign for Tibet, said Obama expressed concern about basic human values. “So naturally he shows genuine concern about suffering in Tibet and other places,” he said.
Saturday’s meeting with the president comes less than 10 days before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is to visit Shenzhen in southern China. Vice President Biden is expected to be in China this summer, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, is scheduled to travel to Washington later.
Past presidents, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, have met with the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 and has long been the de facto leader of the Tibetan government in exile, although he gave up official political leadership this year.
The meetings are always complicated politically because of Chinese opposition.
The White House kept Saturday’s meeting low profile. Unlike previous sessions with major leaders, it was not held in the Oval Office, and photographers from major news organizations were not allowed in. The White House instead released a photo after the meeting.