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Bush and Dalai Lama meet despite China's opposition

By Jacqui Salmon and Edward Cody, Washington Post, Oct 17, 2007

Washington, USA -- President Bush met privately with the Dalai Lama on Tuesday, despite earlier warnings from China that the honors being accorded the long-exiled Buddhist leader this week by Congress and the White House would harm U.S.-Chinese relations.

<<  The Dalai Lama receives the Congressional Gold Medal from US President George W Bush

The strong protest, voiced by China's Foreign Ministry and the Communist Party secretary for Tibet, underlined China's determination to prevent the Dalai Lama from winning international support for his drive to gain autonomy for the mountainous region that has been under Chinese control for more than half a century.

After his meeting with Bush, the Dalai Lama said the president had asked him about the situation in Tibet, and "accordingly, I explained."

Speaking at an informal news conference outside the Park Hyatt Washington hotel, the Dalai Lama said the two have developed a warm relationship and so the meeting felt "something like a reunion."

He laughed off the Chinese government's anger at the warm welcome he is receiving at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

"That always happens," he said of the Chinese reaction.

The Dalai Lama also expressed his solidarity with the Buddhist monks in Burma who are battling the military junta that runs the country.

The Dalai Lama, a Nobel laureate based in Dharamsala, India, will receive a Congressional Gold Medal today in recognition for his years of struggle against Chinese rule.

Bush will present the medal, marking the first time a sitting U.S. president has met in public with the Tibetan spiritual and political leader. The Dalai Lama will make a public address on the West Lawn of the Capitol; thousands of Buddhists from around the world, and other admirers, are expected to attend.

The meeting between Bush and the Dalai Lama lasted about 30 minutes in the private residence of the White House. Administration staff would not release details about the leaders' discussion nor release a photo of the meeting, in deference to Chinese sensibilities.

"We in no way want to stir the pot and make China feel we are sticking a stick in their eye," White House press secretary Dana Perino said. "This might be one thing we can do, but I don't believe it's going to soothe the feelings of the Chinese."

Perino said Bush first informed Chinese President Hu Jintao about the Dalai Lama ceremony two months ago during a meeting at an Asian summit in Australia. Bush has met privately with the Dalai Lama three times before, and typically attends Congressional Gold Medal ceremonies.

For weeks, Chinese officials have been warning that such honors were an affront to the Chinese government, which holds that the Dalai Lama, no matter what he might say about autonomy, is seeking to split Tibet from China.

"The move will seriously damage China-U.S. relations," said Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said China had "solemnly demanded" the Bush administration cancel the honors being arranged in Washington.

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