WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will meet at the White House Wednesday with the Dalai Lama in a get-together the Chinese government assailed.
Obama had been scheduled to travel to Wisconsin to appear at a campaign event with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. But the event was postponed after Sunday’s shooting at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub that left 50 people dead, including the gunman.
That created a hole in Obama’s schedule, and the White House filled it with the Tibetan spiritual leader.
China’s Foreign Ministry said in response that it had made “solemn representations” to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and expressed its “firm opposition” over the meeting.
“We need to emphasize that the Tibetan issue is China’s internal affairs and other countries do not have any right to interfere with this,” spokesman Lu Kang told a daily media briefing.
“The 14th Dalai Lama is not simply a religious figure but a political figure in exile who has been conducting secessionist activities internationally under the pretext of religion,” the statement said. “If President Obama meets with Dalai Lama, it will send the wrong signal to Tibetan separatist forces, and it will undermine the mutual trust and cooperation between China and the U.S.”
Lu urged Washington to “stick by its promise of recognizing Tibet as part of China, and not support Tibetan independence or any separatist activities.”
Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhists’ spiritual leader, of campaigning to split Tibet from the rest of China, but he says he simply wants a higher degree of autonomy under Chinese rule.
Beijing also blames him and others for inciting a wave of self-immolations among Tibetans in recent years. Dozens have set themselves on fire while calling for the return of the Dalai Lama or for Tibetan independence.
The White House has barred news media coverage of the meeting and the meeting will be held in the Map Room instead of the Oval Office, which is reserved for visiting heads of state.