President Barack Obama will meet Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House on Friday, in an encounter likely to draw the ire of China.
“The president will meet the Dalai Lama in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
Obama last met the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel peace laureate, at the White House in 2011 in talks that triggered an angry response from Beijing, which said the encounter had harmed Sino-US relations.
In a sign of the sensitivity of the meeting, it was listed on the president’s daily schedule as closed to the press.
It will take place in the Map Room on the ground floor of the White House residence and not the Oval Office in the West Wing, which Obama usually uses to meet foreign leaders and visiting dignitaries.
Hayden also underlined that the United States supported the Dalai Lama’s approach but recognised Tibet to be “a part of the People’s Republic of China”.
“We do not support Tibetan independence,” she said.
“The United States strongly supports human rights and religious freedom in China. We are concerned about continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China.”
Hayden said the Obama administration would renew calls for the Chinese government to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions.
China has for decades opposed foreign dignitaries meeting the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
The revered Buddhist leader says he advocates greater autonomy for Tibetans rather than independence.
But tensions between Tibetans and the Chinese authorities run high.
More than 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire and committed suicide in recent years to protest what they see as oppression by China’s government and controls on their right to exercise their religion.