Page last updated at 06:53 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

China decries Barack Obama's plan to meet Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama in Washington DC (October 2009)
China accuses the Dalai Lama of being a troublemaker

China has again urged the United States to cancel a planned meeting between President Barack Obama and the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The two men will meet at the White House on 18 February, US spokesman Robert Gibbs has confirmed.

He said the Sino-US relationship was mature enough to disagree while finding common ground on international issues.

China had already said that such a meeting would seriously undermine relations with the United States.

Mr Gibbs said the Dalai Lama was "an internationally respected religious leader".

"He's a spokesman for Tibetan rights. The president looks forward to an engaging and constructive meeting," he said.

"We think we have a mature enough relationship with the Chinese that we can agree on mutual interests, but also have a mature enough relationship that we know the two countries are not always going to agree on everything."

China reacted quickly to the announcement through its Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu.

"We firmly oppose the Dalai Lama visiting the United States and US leaders having contact with him," Mr Ma said.

"We urge the US side to fully understand the high sensitivity of Tibet-related issues, and honour its commitment to recognise Tibet as part of China and to oppose 'Tibet independence'," he added.

"China urges the US... to immediately call off the wrong decision of arranging for President Obama to meet with the Dalai Lama... to avoid any more damage to Sino-US relations."

China, which took over Tibet in 1950, considers the Dalai Lama a separatist and tries to isolate the spiritual leader by asking foreign leaders not to see him.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule and has since been living in India.

Tense ties

The US has already moved carefully on the issue. Mr Obama avoided meeting the Dalai Lama in Washington last year ahead of his own first state visit to Beijing.

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But on that trip he told his Chinese hosts his meeting with the revered Tibetan Buddhist leader would go ahead.

The meeting this month will take place in the White House Map Room, not the symbolic surroundings of the Oval Office, where Mr Obama normally meets foreign leaders and VIP guests.

President George W Bush also met the Dalai Lama at the White House.

The planned meeting comes soon after China expressed strong displeasure at the sale of $6.4bn (£4bn) worth of US weapons to Taiwan.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a Chinese territory to be reunified by force if necessary.

Another source of tension is internet censorship, following the announcement by the search giant Google that it might pull out of China following what it said had been a "sophisticated and targeted" cyber attack from inside the country.

However, the US wants Chinese support in the United Nations regarding sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programmes.

Mr Obama has also given signs of getting tougher on the long-standing dispute over China's currency, which some traders feel is kept artificially weak.

The US aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, is scheduled to visit the former British territory of Hong Kong next week. China has refused permission to similar visits in the past but appears to be allowing this one to go ahead so far.

State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said the visit was an important part of the US "outreach and engagement with the Chinese people" as well as a a key element of the military-to-military relationship.

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