|The Dalai Lama is set to meet Obama on Saturday following his meeting with members of Congress on July 7 [Reuters]|
China has urged the United States to cancel a planned meeting between President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, saying such a meeting would be harmful to US-China relations.
“We firmly oppose any senior foreign government officials meeting with the Dalai Lama in any way,” Hong Lei, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement on Saturday.
Hong said China called on the US to “cancel the decision for Obama to meet the Dalai Lama as soon as possible, and not do anything that could interfere with China’s internal affairs or harm China-US relations”.
But the White House made an announcement late on Friday that Obama will welcome the spiritual leader on Saturday and pledge support for human rights in Tibet.
“This meeting underscores the president’s strong support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans,” a White House statement said.
“The president will highlight his enduring support for dialogue between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese government to resolve differences,” it said.
The International Campaign for Tibet, which works closely with the Dalai Lama, hailed the White House’s decision for a meeting and said that Tibetans were facing a “pervasive security crackdown” from China.
In line with Obama’s last meeting with the Dalai Lama in February 2010, the White House is trying to make the visit as low-key as possible.
Obama will receive the Dalai Lama in the Map Room, not the Oval Office where he welcomes heads of state, and will not allow in reporters.
China accuses the Dalai Lama of supporting the use of violence to set up an independent Tibet.
The Nobel Prize laureate denies this, and says he only seeks true autonomy for the Himalayan region under Chinese rule.
The Dalai Lama, who enjoys wide popularity in the United States, has lived in exile in India since 1959.
Last week, top US politicians, including John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, met the Dalai Lama in Washington.