Obama to meet with Dalai Lama in mid-February

It may seem that relations between the U.S. and China are falling off a cliff, but The Washington Post's John Pomfret says that the two interlinked economies allow the super powers to blow off a little steam in each other's direction.
By John Pomfret
Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to visit Washington on Feb. 17-18 and, despite China's opposition, is expected to meet President Obama, sources close to the exiled Tibetan leader said Wednesday.

Obama was criticized by human rights groups for postponing an October meeting with the Tibetan leader in the run-up to a summit with China's president, Hu Jintao. During the summit, Obama told Hu that he was planning to meet with the Dalai Lama.

Over the past several days, the United States and China have clashed publicly over the meeting and other issues, including the Obama administration's decision to sell $6.4 billion in weapons to Taiwan, which China claims is part of its territory. The disagreements have suggested that the White House is embracing a new, "get tough" policy with China, but U.S. officials and independent analysts close to the Obama administration deny that.

"Anybody who thought U.S.-China relations were going to be smooth just hasn't been paying attention," said one U.S. official speaking on the condition of anonymity. "We all knew this was going to happen."

On a trip to Hawaii in January, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters U.S. relations with China were "mature enough" to deal with problems.

Still, the drumbeat of strong statements from Beijing appears more strident than usual. China reacted to news of the Taiwan arms sales by suspending parts of its newly resumed military relationship with the United States. It also took the unusual step of threatening to sanction U.S. companies involved in the weapons sales.

The Obama administration needs China's cooperation on a multitude of international issues -- such as climate change, the global financial crisis, efforts to persuade Iran to give up its alleged nuclear weapons program and attempts to persuade North Korea to return to negotiations on its own nuclear program.

"China resolutely opposes the visit by the Dalai Lama to the United States, and resolutely opposes the U.S. leader having contact with the Dalai Lama in any name or any form," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said Wednesday, echoing a statement by a senior official in the Communist Party's United Front Department on Tuesday.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said Tuesday that the meeting was still planned, though no date has been set.

"The Dalai Lama is an internationally respected religious and cultural leader, and the president will meet with him in that capacity," Burton said.

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