BEIJING — China has demanded the White House cancel a meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama scheduled for Friday, warning it would severely harm U.S.-China relations.
It will be Obama’s third such meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader since he became president. Each has drawn severe criticism from China, which considers the Dalai Lama an anti-China separatist.
“The Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the cloak of religion,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement Friday. “By arranging a meeting between the President and the Dalai Lama, the U.S. side will grossly interfere in the internal affairs of China, seriously violate norms governing international relations and severely impair China-U.S. relations.”
On Thursday, the White House played down the political aspect of the visit.
“The president will meet with the Dalai Lama in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden in a statement to news organizations.
“The United States supports the Dalai Lama’s ‘middle way’ approach of neither assimilation nor independence for Tibetans in China,” she said. “We will continue to urge the Chinese government to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions, as a means to reduce tensions.”
China has a long history of angry reactions to foreign leaders’ meetings with the Dalai Lama. Among its more dramatic responses, China curtailed some diplomatic ties with Britain in 2012 after Prime Minister David Cameron met the Dalai Lama.
But with the United States, China has not followed through with equally strong measures.
On Friday, hours after China issued its demands for Obama to call off the meeting, U.S. and Chinese military leaders announced separately that they planned to establish regular dialogue between their armies.
The announcement came during a visit to Beijing by Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. Army chief of staff.
“I have a very positive opinion on our future relationship as we develop the army dialogue,” Odierno told Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, according to the Associated Press.
Among the issues the two military leaders hope to discuss is increased educational exchanges and cooperation in peacekeeping.