WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama held a White House meeting Saturday with the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel Peace laureate, hours after China called on the U.S. to rescind an invitation that could sour relations with Beijing.
The Tibetan spiritual leader has been in Washington for an 11-day Buddhist ritual. Thousands of expatriate Tibetans joined a 76th birthday celebration Wednesday for the Dalai Lama, who’s just relinquished leadership of Tibet’s government-in-exile.
The White House said the 45-minute private session in the Map Room showed Obama’s support for preserving Tibet’s culture and protecting human rights, as well reaffirming his belief that Chinese government should engage with representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve their differences.
A Chinese crackdown led the Dalai Lama to flee into exile in India in 1959. China says he’s welcome to return if he drops his separatist activities, accepts Tibet as an inalienable part of China and recognizes Taiwan as a province of China.
Hours before the Dalai Lama’s arrival, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged the White House to cancel the visit.
“We firmly oppose any foreign official to meet with the Dalai Lama in any form,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website.
“We request the U.S. side to honor its serious commitment that recognizes Tibet as part of China and opposes Tibet independence,” Hong said.
The White House kept the meeting low-key, closing it from the news media. It chose the Map Room for the visit instead of the Oval Office, which is reserved for visiting heads of state.
The visit comes less than 10 days before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to visit the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. Vice President Joseph Biden is also scheduled to visit China this summer, followed by a trip to Washington by his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.