Top US lawmakers plan Thursday to welcome the Dalai Lama in a show of support as China stepped up pressure on President Barack Obama not to hold his own meeting with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.
Members of the House of Representatives plan to put aside briefly a bitter debate on taming the US debt for talks with the Dalai Lama, a rare figure embraced by both sides of the political spectrum in the United States.
House Speaker John Boehner, the third highest-ranking US official under the Constitution, invited the Dalai Lama to the Capitol. Former speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House leader of Obama’s Democratic Party and longtime supporter of the Dalai Lama, will join the talks along with other senior lawmakers.
The White House has tried to keep the question of a meeting with Obama on the back-burner after treatment of the Dalai Lama during his two previous visits to Washington raised hackles both in Congress and China.
The White House has said only that it has no announcement to make on a potential meeting with the Dalai Lama, who is in Washington until the end of next week to lead a Buddhist ritual before thousands of devotees.
Last month House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) raked deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor over the coals at a hearing for the administration’s shabby treatment of the Dalai Lama:
Unfortunately the administration seems unwilling to heed her advice.
As former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams reminded us yesterday, “President Obama has met the Dalai Lama only once and when he did so allowed only one photo of the event to be distributed. This policy will win him nothing from the Chinese, who do not respect weakness.” It is remarkable, in fact that the disconnect between the administration’s rhetoric (always promising to get tough on human rights) and even symbolic actions is so great.
Former State Department official Kelley Currie, who is now with a think tank specializing in Asia, e-mails me: “ During the Bush administration, the President’s meetings with the Dalai Lama were always firmly scheduled well in advance of His Holiness’ arrival in DC, and the fact of it was released as part of his public schedule. It was about respect for the Dalai Lama, and understanding that leadership means not letting the Chinese government dictate your schedule and who you meet with.” She brushes aside that there will be “damage” to the China-U.S. relationship, such as it is: “US-China relations have never suffered any lasting or serious damage from presidential meetings with the Dalai Lama — the problems only arise when the White House or State Department gives an indication they are willing to appease such unreasonable demands. It just gives Beijing the impression that if they throw a big noisy temper tantrum, they might be able to intimidate the President of the United States away from meeting with his fellow Nobel peace laureate.”
The administration may adjust its rhetoric from time to time, but its policy is consistent. Human rights gets the back of the hand. Despotic regimes are coddled. And human rights and democracy suffer around the globe.