White House Defends Bush Visit With Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama's U.S. visit and congressional award set off tiff with China.

February 18, 2009, 3:46 PM

Oct. 16, 2007 — -- President Bush welcomed the Dalai Lama to the White House today, one day before attending an unprecedented congressional award ceremony for the exiled Tibetan leader that has set off an international imbroglio with China.

China protested the president's plan to attend a Capitol Hill ceremony in which the exiled Tibetan leader will be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said today that the recognition amounted to "violent interference" in China's domestic affairs.

Chinese representatives canceled their scheduled attendance Wednesday at six-nation talks in Berlin aimed at persuading North Korea to end its nuclear program, apparently in protest.

White House officials say Bush personally notified Chinese leader Hu Jintao of the Dalai Lama's coming honor.

"We are extremely dissatisfied and firmly opposed," Yang told reporters at a Communist Party meeting in Beijing. "We have made strong representations to the United States, and once again urge it to correct its mistakes, cancel related arrangements and stop interfering in China's internal affairs in whatever form."

The Capitol Hill event marks an unprecedented event, with the president for the first time meeting publicly with the Tibetan leader and making remarks in his honor.

China considers the Dalai Lama, whose followers revere him as both a spiritual leader and as head of state, to be a separatist leader.

"We in no way want to stir the pot and make China feel that we are poking a stick in their eye," White House spokesman Dana Perino told reporters.

The White House meeting on Tuesday, by contrast, was the fourth between Bush and the Dalai Lama, who has met previously with former Presidents Carter, Bush and Clinton.

White House officials appeared keen to keep today's private meeting between Bush and the Dalai Lama low key.

The White House issued photographs of each of the three previous meetings, but White House spokesman Tony Fratto said none from today's meeting would be released.

Reporters and others were barred from leaving, apparently as the 14th Dalai Lama was being escorted into a White House gate away from network cameras.

Fratto denied that the United States was meddling in Chinese politics, saying the White House welcomed the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader, a notion underscored by the president's decision to welcome him in his private residence rather than in the Oval Office, where Bush routinely meets heads of state.

Tibetan religious leaders identified the son of poor nomadic farmers at the age of 2 as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, who is now 72. He was one of 16 children, only seven of whom survived infancy in the harsh Tibetan climate, but has remained in exile since 1959 after China annexed Tibet.

Despite what U.S. military officials privately describe as an aggressive effort by the United States to court China as an international partner, if not an ally, President Bush has shown an inclination to publicly chastise the Beijing government over the exiled Tibetan leader.

"We've got great relations with China from a diplomatic perspective. In other words, we're able to talk with them openly and candidly. But do we agree on every issue?  Not at all. I mean, for example, I've spent time talking about dissidents who have been jailed. I'm concerned about the treatment of the Dalai Lama," Bush said during an economic summit of Asian nations in Sydney on Sept. 5.

The Tibetan leader said on his Web site that he seeks not an independence but a truly autonomous state.

"I am not seeking separation from China. I am committed to my middle-way approach whereby Tibet remains within the People's Republic of China enjoying a high degree of self-rule or autonomy," he said on his Web site, dalailama.com.


"We do not support a separate country from China," Perino said.