China wasted little time to express its anger over President Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama. Despite the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai summoned U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman this morning to express the Chinese government's "strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition" against the meeting.
Obama's meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader Thursday "grossly interfered in China's internal affairs, gravely hurt the Chinese people's national sentiments and seriously damaged Sino-U.S. ties," according to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry spokesman.
The statement reiterated Beijing's view that "issues concerning Tibet are purely internal affairs of China" and described the Dalai Lama as "not a pure religious figure but a political exile who has all along been engaged in separatist activities under the pretext of religion."
It went on to say that the meeting "grossly violated the basic norms governing international relations and ran counter to the principles" governing U.S.-China relations.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson said Hunstman responded to the Chinese vice foreign minister by saying that "now is the time to move forward and cooperate in ways that benefit our two countries, the region and the world."
Although Chinese anger over the meeting echoed its previous protests against the Dalai Lama's encounters with previous U.S. presidents and other foreign political leaders, the language of the Foreign Ministry statement was relatively restrained and did not include any threat of retaliation.
Professor Jin Canrong of the School of International Studies at Beijing's Renmin University said "the response from the Foreign Ministry was routine, there was nothing special in it."
After all, Jin said, "On the surface, the meeting in Washington was a routine meeting, it was just like earlier meetings with the Dalai Lama."
Unclear is whether Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama will have any adverse impact on the timing of President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States later this year.
"For the moment, I have no answer to that," the Chinese professor said.
China cancelled a European Union summit meeting two years ago after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Dalai Lama.
"At this point, it is hard to say what will happen," Jin said.
Jin, who is one of the leading Chinese experts on U.S.-China relations, said the issue of the Dalai Lama comes at a time when other sensitive matters in the bilateral relations are on the front burner, such as weapons sales to Taiwan, trade and currency issues, as well as Google and Internet censorship.
"All these issues are coming together, putting U.S.-China relations in a complicated situation," he said, explaining why it was difficult to predict what will happen next.
Also, Obama and Hu have to deal with their respective domestic situations, Jin said. In Obama's case, he said, the president acted to pacify his critics who were angry when he failed to meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader in October.
In Hu's case, the professor said, the Chinese political situation has become more complex in the past decade and the top leaders now have to face some degree of public pressure from bureaucratic interest groups, as well as any strong reaction from netizens.
As a result, Jin said, "the leadership is less willing to resist pressure from society."
He likened the Chinese government to one that is collectively run by technocrats. Unlike during the time of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, "there is no paramount leader now."
China's top leaders have to consider the reaction from interest groups such as China's military or any emotional criticism on the Chinese Internet over the Obama-Dalai Lama meeting, he added.
But Jin pointed to China's allowing a U.S. aircraft carrier to make a port call in Hong Kong this week when it rejected one in 2007 after President Bush met with the Dalai Lama.
"What is important for China is to have stable and healthy relations with the U.S.," he explained.
This overriding goal of having "stable and healthy relations with the U.S." will help to explain China's behavior, he said, as China tries to manage its differences with the U.S. in the coming months.