Barack Obama cancels meeting with Dalai Lama 'to keep China happy'
Washington, Oct 5, 2009 - President Barack Obama has refused to meet the Dalai Lama in Washington this week in a move to curry favour with the Chinese.
The decision came after China stepped up a campaign urging nations to shun the Tibetan spiritual leader.
It means Mr Obama will become the first president not to welcome the Nobel peace prize winner to the White House since the Dalai Lama began visiting Washington in 1991.
The Buddhist monk arrived in Washington on Monday for a week of meetings with Congressional leaders, celebrity supporters and interest groups, but the president will not see him until after he has made his first visit to China next month.
Samdhong Rinpoche, the Tibetan prime minister-in-exile, has accused the United States and other Western nations of "appeasement" toward China as its economic weight grows.
"Today, economic interests are much greater than other interests," he said.
Mr Obama's decision dismayed human rights and Tibetan support groups, who said he had made an unnecessary concession to the Chinese, who regard the Dalai Lama as a "splittist", despite his calls for autonomy rather than independence for Tibet. The Chinese invaded in 1950, forcing the young leader to flee.
Sophie Richardson, Asia advocate for Human Rights Watch, said: "Presidents always meets the Dalai Lama and what happens? Absolutely nothing.
"This idea that if you are nice to the Chinese Communist Party up front you can cash in later is just wrong. If you lower the bar on human rights they will just move it lower and lower."
Over several months of discussions the Tibetans resisted entreaties to delay the meeting, arguing that a refusal would make smaller countries more vulnerable to pressure from China not to meet the Dalai Lama.
But they were told by US officials they wanted to work with China on critical issues, including nuclear weapons proliferation in North Korea and Iran, according to The Washington Post. Mr Obama then sent a delegation to the Dalai Lama's home in exile in India last month that confirmed the meeting would be deferred.
Mr Obama has changed his position on Tibet since his election campaign.
In April 2008, he was joined by Hillary Clinton, then his rival for the Democratic nomination and now his Secretary of State, in calling on George W Bush to boycott the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony in protest at the bloody repression of a popular uprising in Tibet.
"If the Chinese do not take steps to help stop the genocide in Darfur and to respect the dignity, security, and human rights of the Tibetan people, then the President should boycott the opening ceremonies," they said.
Mrs Clinton has been at the forefront of a new approach, called "strategic reassurance", which seeks a more amicable partnership with the emerging power.
On her first trip to China in February she said public pressure on China over human rights was ill-advised as she "knew what the Chinese were going to say".
Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, the Washington-based special envoy to the Dalai Lama, issued a brief statement, saying: "We came to this arrangement because we believe that it is in our long-term interests."
The Tibetan leader's ten meetings with US presidents have played an important role in maintaining his international profile, even though they have never been filmed or followed by a press conference.
The exception was 2007, when George W Bush conferred the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress's highest civilian award, on the Dalai Lama in front of the cameras.
Frank Wolf, a Republican congressman and outspoken critic of China's human rights record, said: "What would a Buddhist monk or Buddhist nun in Drapchi prison think when he heard that President Obama, the president of the United States, is not going to meet with the Dalai Lama?
"It's against the law to even have a picture of the Dalai Lama. I can almost hear the words of the Chinese guards saying to them that nobody cares about you in the United States."
Ms Richardson said treating human rights as separate from other issues guaranteed failure "across the board".
"If there is no explicit agreement to stop locking up environmental activists and whistle blowers then any environmental agreement will be weakened.
"If the press in China is muzzled it won't investigate industrial safety and you will have more toxic toys coming to the United States," she said.
Original article: The Telegraph