US President Barack Obama has offered his “strong support” for the protection of Tibetans’ human rights in China as he defied protests from Beijing to meet the Dalai Lama.
With China warning that the meeting would derail ties between the world’s two largest economies, Obama took care to avoid any trappings of an official visit, receiving the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader in the Map Room of the White House residence and not the Oval Office where he usually talks to dignitaries.
The Dalai Lama, usually chatty and playful with foreign audiences, was nowhere to be seen at the White House, which did not allow in reporters.
The administration instead released an official photograph of the robed Buddhist monk gesticulating with one hand and clutching prayer beads in the other as he spoke to a studious-looking Obama over glasses of water.
In Beijing, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui summoned the US charge d’affaires, Daniel Kritenbrink, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
“China expresses strong indignation and firm opposition,” Zhang was quoted as saying.
The White House in a statement said that Obama expressed “his strong support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China”.
The statement said that Obama backed the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland for India in 1959, in his “Middle Way” path of peacefully advocating greater autonomy for Tibetans.
Obama called for China to resume talks with the Dalai Lama’s envoys, which broke down in 2010 after making no headway.
The statement rejected Beijing’s charges that the Dalai Lama, a self-described pacifist, had a separatist agenda and that his meeting was part of a plot to split China.