China’s caustic response to the visit by the Dalai Lama to the White House conveys the underlying layers involved in this historic event
Dilip Chaware in US
The Dalai Lama’s latest US visit will be remembered for many reasons. The 80-year old spiritual master received spontaneous welcome everywhere he went during his US tour. However, but for his meeting with President Barack Obama, he did not attract much national media attention. The Obama-Lama 45-minute ‘personal’ meeting at the White House became newsworthy due to the opposition by China. The Dalai Lama refused to generate any political controversy, always speaking cautiously about Tibet’s demand for autonomy.
Before meeting Obama, the Lama participated in an event organised with the help of the Brookings Institution. He was received and introduced by Strobe Talbott, president of the Institution, to speak on democracy and hope.
This was the fourth time Obama was meeting with the Dalai Lama, every time inviting the ire from Beijing. The meeting was not open to the press. Afterward, a White House official said that the Dalai Lama expressed
condolences for the terror attack in Orlando. He refused to elaborate on the visit beyond this.
However, the venue of the meeting was significant since it was held at the Map Room and not at the Oval Office. Obama and his predecessors have every time received the Dalai Lama in this room. The US has thus made clear that the Dalai Lama is not regarded as head in exile by it. Josh Earnest, the White House Press Secretary, endorsed this when he said that the meeting’s venue indicated that it was a personal greeting rather than formal bilateral talks.
Earnest said the meeting did not
convey any change in the US policy towards China, meaning that the US does not support an independent Tibet. “Tibet is considered a part of the People's Republic of China,” Earnest said but reiterated that Obama had “warm personal feelings” for the Dalai Lama and supported “preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions.”
China had opposed the meeting even before the White House schedule was announced. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Lu Kang said, “We ask all countries and governments not to give him any room to carry out such
The US policy towards China is fraught with tensions. Although it is understood that supporting an
independent Tibet could damage US-China relations, experts also point out that Washington and Beijing have been cooperating on a climate agreement and have initiated joint sanctions against North Korea over that country's nuclear armament. All the same, maritime
disputes between the two countries in relation with the South China Sea, the currency disagreements and the
concerns over human rights persist.
The Dalai Lama had a busy schedule in the US. He will return to India at the end of this month. He addressed a joint session of the California legislature during this visit. There, he urged
lawmakers to protect the environment, support education and seek inner peace by caring for humanity. Outside the Capitol, a large crowd gathered to catch a glimpse of the famous spiritual leader. Children decked up in traditional Tibetan dress waved flags as the Dalai Lama arrived. Governor Jerry Brown and legislative leaders had earlier arranged a reception for him.
The turnout at Westminster in California was unbelievable for any
foreign leader. Masses of people, many of them Buddhists who migrated from Vietnam decades ago to the US, had come to this Southern California
neighbourhood, known as Little Saigon. The Dalai Lama dedicated a new temple there. Thousands of people gathered outside the Dieu Ngu Temple to witness the Dalai Lama dedicating the temple, founded in a Little Saigon home in 2008 and later moved to a warehouse as it needed expansion. Buddhists from Chinese and other South-East Asian
traditions came to the dedication
ceremony. The Dalai Lama's presence is an important milestone for the Dieu Ngu Temple, a 6-million dollar project.
Experts feel that China is already rattled due to the fantastic welcome accorded to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since the visit by the Dalai Lama has come close on the heels of Modi’s tour, the response of China is more caustic. n