WASHINGTON, Oct 7 – US President Barack Obama will meet the Dalai Lama later this year, the White House said, rejecting accusations he "kowtowed" to China by avoiding the exiled Ticapitalfmnewn leader on his current visit.
Top congressional leaders rallied behind the Dalai Lama in a Tuesday ceremony at the Capitol, where they presented him with a new prize for championing human rights.
But despite lawmakers’ praise and his sold-out public lectures scheduled later in the week, the trip will mark the first time since 1991 that the Dalai Lama has come to Washington without a meeting with the US president.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denied that Obama, who has championed warmer ties with a growing China, had been trying not to annoy Beijing before his first visit there as president in November.
"In discussions with the Dalai Lama and his staff, we simply agreed that a meeting would be had later in the year," Gibbs told reporters Tuesday.
"We’re concerned about the people in Tibet, and we’re concerned about the Chinese," he said.
He noted that the Dalai Lama’s top negotiator, Lodi Gyari, had voiced support for Obama’s approach.
"They understand the stronger relationship that we have with China benefits the Ticapitalfmnewn people," Gibbs said.
China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 and has been ramping up pressure on foreign nations not to receive the Dalai Lama.
China accuses the Dalai Lama of separatism, even though the Ticapitalfmnewn leader says he is only seeking greater rights for his predominantly Buddhist people under Beijing’s rule.
Foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said Beijing is "resolutely against the Dalai’s engagement in activities aimed at splitting China under any capacity, under any name, and in any country.
"China is resolutely opposed to meetings with the Dalai Lama in any form by officials from any country," he said in a statement issued to AFP.
Some members of the rival Republican Party voiced outrage over Obama’s decision, fearing China could see it as carte blanche to clamp down in the Himalayan territory.
Representative Frank Wolf, a longtime critic of China’s rights record, said it was not too late for Obama to invite the Dalai Lama to the White House.
"I call on the president to reclaim the moral high ground and not kowtow to the Chinese government, a government that brutally oppresses its own people," the Virginia Republican said on the House floor.
"I call on the president to stand side by side with His Holiness — a man of peace — and align America once again with the oppressed, not the oppressors."
John Bolton, an outspoken conservative and former US ambassador to the United Nations, said he had heard that China had pressed the Obama team against a meeting with the Dalai Lama even before it entered the White House.
"This is a big mistake," Bolton told AFP. "It’s a signal to the Chinese and to other authoritarian regimes around the world that they pretty much have a free hand."
The Dalai Lama refrained from criticizing Obama and instead hailed US democracy as he accepted a human rights award named for late congressman Tom Lantos, who arranged the Ticapitalfmnewn leader’s first trip to Congress in 1987.
"I think American weapons, military forces, of course some people take seriously," the Dalai Lama said.
"But the real greatness of America is your ancestors’ principles," he said. "In any case, you must preserve these principles."
Yet he gently chided his hosts on a very different issue, saying he was alarmed by the "huge gap" between the rich and poor in a nation as wealthy as the United States.
"This is unhealthy. You have to take it seriously about those less privileged people. They’re also human beings," he said.
"If they can get happier, then the whole American people will get benefit," he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator John McCain, who lost the presidential race to Obama last year, appeared alongside the Dalai Lama.
Pelosi called Tibet a "challenge to the conscience of the world" and urged China to look at the Dalai Lama’s message of non-violence and tolerance.
"It is our hope that the Chinese government will welcome this opportunity for a peaceful resolution to the issue of Tibet," Pelosi said.