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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 21:00 GMT 22:00 UK
US backs Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is a vocal advocate of Tibetan rights
President George W Bush has offered his strong support to the Dalai Lama and his efforts to initiate a dialogue with the Chinese Government over Tibet.

In a statement issued after meeting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader at the White House, Mr Bush said he would "encourage dialogue" and hoped that Beijing would respond favourably.


The president considers the Dalai Lama an important spiritual and religious leader

White House press secretary
The president also underlined the US commitment to "supporting Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of the human rights of all Tibetans".

China regards Tibet as part of its traditional territory and sees the Dalai Lama as an independence activist.

Beijing has accused the United States of interfering in its domestic affairs and hurting its interests.

But senior US officials say the Dalai Lama is being received "in his capacity as a respected religious figure" - not as a political leader.

'Political exile'

"The president considers the Dalai Lama an important spiritual and religious leader and looks forward to his visit," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.


Recently [the US] has endlessly interfered in China's internal affairs and hurt China's interests

Zhu Bangzao, Foreign Ministry spokesman
Voicing strong opposition to the visit, China said the Dalai Lama is not a "religious figure but a political exile," indulging in activities "aimed to split Tibet from the motherland".

The Dalai Lama has repeatedly insisted he does not want independence for Tibet, but argued that autonomy within China may be the best solution.

In his first encounter with the Bush administration, the Dalai Lama also met Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and special co-ordinator for Tibetan affairs, Paula Dobriansky.

The BBC's Richard Lister in Washington says it appears the Bush administration is going to follow much the same Tibet policy as Bill Clinton - pressing Beijing to end human rights abuses in Tibet, talking directly to the Dalai Lama, but not advocating Tibetan independence.

US President George W Bush
Mr Bush has promised to defend Taiwan
However, US relations with China as a whole have come under great strain since Mr Bush took power.

Mr Bush welcomed the Dalai Lama as China marked the 50th anniversary of its takeover of Tibet.

Beijing staged a ceremony attended by 5,000 people including government leaders outside the Potala Palace, the traditional seat of the Dalai Lamas in the Tibetan capital Lhasa.

Beijing has also been angered by a stopover in the US by President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.

It lodged a strong protest on Wednesday, saying that the US had "grossly interfered" in China's affairs and encouraged independence forces on the island.

Taiwanese visit

"China has always opposed all forms of official contacts with Taiwan by countries with which we have diplomatic relations," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao.

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian in New York
Mr Chen's visit to New York is unprecedented
The BBC's Beijing correspondent, Rupert Wingfield Hayes, says the simultaneous visits by the Dalai Lama and President Chen - two of China's least favourite people - add to the perception that the US is more interested in encouraging China's enemies than fostering better ties with Beijing.

The US State Department said Taiwanese President Chen's visit should not have an impact on Washington's ties with China.

On Tuesday, Mr Chen met the Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, held further discussions with US congressmen and visited the New York Stock Exchange.

The Bush administration's decision to allow the visit - in effect a reversal of long-standing US policy - underlines its support for Taiwan in the face of criticism from China.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Lister
"China... condemned the meeting here"
US congressman Chris Smith
"There is nothing about this that is provocative"
Migyur Dorje, Dalai Lama's spokesman
"We believe it is important...to support the truth"

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