The Dalai Lama is in Washington for a meeting today with US President Barack Obama. In Tibetan eyes it is a long overdue get-together after Obama’s failure to meet the spiritual leader last year. But the event has proved something of a diplomatic balancing act between the US honouring the Tibetan leader while not annoying China.
Charles Freeman from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies explains: “For the Chinese government, the Dalai Lama represents this notion that Tibet can be an independent country, and so meeting with the Dalai Lama suggests support for the political proponent of independence, even though I think here in the US, most politicians and most of the public think of the Dalai Lama as a religious figure, not a political figure of any kind.”
Tibetans living near the Dalai Lama’s birthplace may be celebrating the meeting, but it will not take place in public. Instead as a compromise, Obama will welcome him privately in the White House’s prestigious Map Room.
Last November Obama was careful not to annoy the Chinese before his Beijing summit by having already met the Dalai Lama. Today relations are more strained over a US four billion-euro arms deal with Taiwan.
But Washington recognises it needs Chinese help with major global issues such as the economic crisis, climate change and nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea.