President Barack Obama met with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama for roughly 45 minutes at the White House on Saturday, potentially angeringÂ China, which called for the meeting to be canceled.
“The president reiterated his strong support for the preservation of the unique religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions of Tibet and the Tibetan people throughout the world,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement after the meeting.
“He underscored the importance of the protection of human rights of Tibetans in China. The president commended the Dalai Lama’s commitment to nonviolence and dialogue with China.”
China, which accuses the Dalai Lama of being a separatist who supports the use of violence to set up an independent Tibet, said it opposed any meeting between him and foreign government officials.
The Nobel Prize laureate denies China’s accusations, saying he wants a peaceful transition to autonomy for the remote Himalayan region, which China has ruled with an iron fist since 1950 when Chinese troops marched in.
Obama’s meeting came at an extra sensitive moment for China, the United States’ biggest creditor, with leaders in Washington at odds over how to raise the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt ceiling in time to avoid default.
China holds more than $1 trillion in U.S. Treasury debt and would be particularly exposed should Congress fail to reach aÂ dealÂ by August 2. A U.S. default could rocket up interest rates, sink the value of the U.S. dollar and hurt the global economy.
Obama reiterated in the meeting that the United States did not support independence for Tibet and stressed the importance he saw in building a cooperative U.S.-China partnership.
“The president stressed that he encourages direct dialogue to resolve long-standing differences and that a dialogue that produces results would be positive for China and Tibetans,” Carney said.
“SPIRIT OF REUNION”
The Dalai Lama, who has met with various government officials during his stay in Washington, said he felt a “spirit of reunion” with Obama, said Kate Saunders, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet.
“(Obama) is naturally showing some concern for basic human values, human rights, religious freedom,” the Dalai Lama said after the meeting, according to Saunders.
“Naturally, he shows genuine concern about the suffering in Tibet and also other places,” she quoted the Dalai Lama as saying.
Beijing warned the United States to stay out of its affairs last week after top lawmakers including House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, and top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi met the Dalai Lama during his 10-day visit to Washington.
Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama was his first in more than a year.
The White House said the Dalai Lama said in the meeting that he was not seeking independence for Tibet and hoped that “dialogue between his representatives and the Chinese government can soon resume.”