Obama to defy China

February 3, 2010 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, Feb 3 – The White House is standing tough on President Barack Obama\’s plans to meet with the Dalai Lama, firmly rejecting Chinese pressure to snub him as rows escalate between the Pacific powers.

Days after defying Beijing with a $6.4billion weapons package for Taiwan, the White House also insisted on Tuesday that China address human rights concerns in Tibet.

"The president told China leaders during his trip last year that he would meet with the Dalai Lama, and he intends to do so," White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters Tuesday.

"The Dalai Lama is an internationally respected religious and cultural leader, and the president will meet with him in that capacity," he said on Air Force One as Obama made a day trip to New Hampshire.

He did not give a date, but the Dalai Lama is due in the United States later this month for public teachings in California and Florida.

"We\’ll announce a date as it comes closer," Burton said.

Obama has sought wide-ranging ties with the rising Asian power on issues from the global economy to North Korea.  Burton said Obama remained committed to "building a positive, comprehensive and cooperative relationship with China."

Obama in October avoided meeting the Dalai Lama when the monk visited Washington.  The move was controversial at home, but the White House said Obama did not want to sour ties with Beijing before his maiden visit a month later.

But officials and experts said it was only a matter of time before Obama agreed to meet the Dalai Lama and to provide weapons to Taiwan, as is required under US law.

The Dalai Lama, who has built a strong global following since fleeing into exile in India in 1959, says he is seeking greater rights for Ticapitalfmnewns within Chinese rule, but Beijing accuses him of separatism.

The United States considers both Taiwan, where the mainland\’s defeated nationalists fled in 1949, and Tibet, where Beijing sent troops in 1950, to belong to China.

"To be clear, the US considers Tibet to be a part of China," Burton said.

But he added: "We have human rights concerns about the treatment of Ticapitalfmnewns. We urge the government of China to protect the unique cultural and religious traditions of Tibet."

Hours earlier, China said that a meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama would "seriously undermine the political foundation of Sino-US relations."

"If the US leader chooses to meet with the Dalai Lama at this time, it will certainly threaten trust and cooperation between China and the United States," said Zhu Weiqun, executive vice minister of the Communist Party body that handles contact with the Dalai Lama.

Zhu\’s comments followed another round of talks between Chinese officials and envoys of the exiled Ticapitalfmnewn spiritual leader – the ninth since 2002 and the first in more than a year.

Beijing said the talks yielded no progress.  Some Tibet activists argue that Beijing is simply biding time with the talks, which the United States has praised, as it waits for the 74-year-old Dalai Lama to die.

China earlier snapped off military ties and threatened to punish US companies over the arms package to Taiwan, which includes Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters and other military hardware.

Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the sharp Chinese reaction may be tied to another issue (F-16 fighter-jets) which the administration did not sell to Taiwan.

"The Chinese are probably breathing a sigh of relief over the F-16s. But they may think that the louder they huff and puff and the more \’costly\’ they make this, that they will further dissuade the US on the F-16s," he said.

US officials have said that F-16s are not off the table and that they are still studying the proposal. Taiwan has pressed for the fighter-jets, which many analysts believe are vital if the island wants to modernize its fleet.


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