x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

China accuses US of 'gross interference' after Obama meets Dalai Lama

Communist Party has made similar comments during previous meetings between US presidents and the Dalai Lama and analysts said significant political fallout was unlikely.

BEIJING //China reacted angrily yesterday to a weekend meeting between the US president, Barack Obama, and the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, accusing the American administration of having "grossly interfered" in China's internal affairs.

The Communist Party has made similar comments during previous meetings between US presidents and the Dalai Lama and analysts said, despite what might be seen as a shrill response from Beijing, significant political fallout was unlikely.

In a statement released yesterday, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the meeting, which Beijing had earlier said should be cancelled, had "hurt the feelings of Chinese people and damaged the Sino-American relations".

"We demand the US side to seriously consider China's stance, immediately adopt measures to wipe out the baneful impact, stop interfering in China's internal affairs and cease to connive and support anti-China separatist forces that seek 'Tibet independence'," Mr Ma said.

As was the case during the last time Mr Obama and the Dalai Lama held talks, in February 2010, Saturday's meeting took place in the Map Room, rather than the Oval Office, which is generally reserved for visiting heads of state, indicating Washington was keen not to inflame Chinese anger.

After the meeting, the White House said Mr Obama had emphasised the importance of protecting the human rights of Tibetans in China. Mr Obama also however confirmed during the meeting that the US did not support Tibetan independence and considered the territory to be part of China. The Dalai Lama publicly calls for "meaningful autonomy", rather than independence, although Beijing has called him a "splittist".

Earlier this year the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, stepped down as political leader of the exiled Tibetan government, but he remains a spiritual leader. In a speech earlier this year, he said life for people in Tibet was one of "constant fear and anxiety".

Ding Xueliang, a professor and political analyst at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the Obama administration had "kept a good balance" between the positions of the exiled Tibetan community and the Chinese leadership.

"So Washington has got these very crucial two components together. In the international perspective, that's a very balanced stand," he said.

He said it was difficult to see Beijing taking any serious diplomatic retaliatory action, since the US had been at pains to reduce the offence Mr Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama caused. It is much less significant diplomatically, he said, than Washington's decision last year to sell US$6.4 billion (Dh23.5 billion) of arms to Taiwan, the island China considers to be part of its own territory. Beijing cancelled military exchanges after the deal was announced.

dbardsley@thenational.ae