Obama meeting with the Dalai Lama

The White House has confirmed that President Obama will go ahead with his meeting with the Dalai Lama on February 18th. This followed the postponement of the meeting prior to President Obama’s trip to China in November where in a joint statement with President Hu it was stated that;

We did note that while we recognize that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China, the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve any concerns and differences that the two sides may have.

The announcment of the visit has not been welcomed in Beijing. This has followed on from a number of recent disputes between China and the United States about the US’s continued support for Taiwan and the confirmation that it intends to continue with an agreed sale of arms to it that was negotiated under the Bush administration. This has followed on from disputes on trade relations, sanctions against Iran and the criticism of President Obama’s failure to discuss in-depth human rights concerns during his state visit in November.

A recent Economist article stated that there needed to be recognition that making room for China as a new superpower does not necessarily mean giving in to it. Indeed this has been a problem for a number of countries such as Ireland. This is probably best demonstrated by the critisism of President Mary Robinson when she met the Dalai Lama, over the objections, though not outright prohibition, of the Government in 1991. While Ireland has given financial aid to the Tibetan community in India, the need to keep up good relations with China for economic and geopolitical reasons while also maintaining a forthright approach to human rights issues can often be difficult. The riots in Lhasa in 2008 and the stifling of information coming out of Tibet since does raise concerns and it may thus indeed be proper for President Obama to meet with the spiritual leader and keep the issue of the people of Tibet in the public arena.

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