Obama to meet Dalai Lama despite Chinese warning
THE White House announced last night that President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama would meet on February 18, despite China's warning that such talks could undermine strained Sino-US relations.
Mr Obama's White House meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader is likely to set off a new round of sniping from Beijing, which has seen tensions with Washington rise over various issues.
"The Dalai Lama is an internationally respected religious leader and spokesman for Tibetan rights, and the president looks forward to an engaging and constructive dialogue," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Mindful of Chinese sensibilities, Mr Obama had held off meeting the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing deems a dangerous separatist, until after the president first saw Chinese leaders during a trip to Asia in November.
But the White House made clear in recent days that it would shrug off China's fierce opposition. All that was left to do was to set the date for Mr Obama's first meeting with the Dalai Lama since taking office a year ago.
Strains over the Dalai Lama and other issues have raised worries that China might retaliate by obstructing US efforts in other areas, such as imposing tougher sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
But Mr Gibbs insisted the relationship between the United States and China -- the world's largest and third-biggest economies -- was "mature enough" to find common ground on issues of mutual interest despite disagreements on other topics.
Adding to tensions, Mr Obama vowed last week to address currency problems with Beijing and to "get much tougher" with it on trade to ensure US goods did not face a competitive disadvantage.
China is the single biggest holder of US Treasuries, owning at least $776.4bn (€567bn) of US government debt at the end of June 2009, according to statistics from Washington.
Previous US presidents, including Mr Obama's predecessor, George W Bush, have met the Dalai Lama, drawing angry words from Beijing but no substantive reprisals.