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Obama hosts Dalai Lama at White House as China protests

This is the fourth time the two Nobel Peace laureates have met at the White House during Obama’s presidency. Although they met in the president’s residence, as opposed to the Oval Office, China is furious.

US President Barack Obama met with the Dalai Lama at the White House on Wednesday, his fourth such meeting with the exiled Tibetan leader.

It was officially a private meeting as the two met in the president’s private residence, as opposed to the Oval Office. Journalists were not invited to see the two Nobel Peace Prize winners together.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the meeting place illustrated the “personal nature of their meeting.”

In addition, Earnest said Obama has previously spoken of his “warm personal feelings” for the Dalai Lama, as well as an appreciation of his teachings, and belief “in preserving Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions.”

The leaders’ meeting infuriated China at a time of increasingly tense relations with the United States.

The Dalai Lama has insisted he only wants greater autonomy for Tibet, but Beijing has called the exiled spiritual leader a dangerous separatist. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular press briefing that the Dalai Lama’s meeting with Obama would encourage “separatist forces” in Tibet.

Separated by a coffe table, the Dalai Lama talks informally with President Obama int he Map Room at the White House in 2014. A private meeting at the White House in 2014

The Dalai Lama last met Obama at the White House in 2014. The president infuriated China then, when he vowed “strong support” for Tibet’s quest for human rights.

Support for Tibet

Lu called on the United States to uphold its commitments to Chinese sovereignty and end support for Tibetan independence.

At the White House, Earnest said the US position remains unchanged. That is, that Tibet is a part of China and should remain so – but with greater autonomy.

The Dalai Lama fled his homeland and went into exile in India in 1959 after a Tibetan uprising was crushed by China.

US-Chinese relations have grown increasingly fraught, lately, over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. China is seeking to claim control over much of the vast body of water and the islands that dot it. That has unnerved China’s neighbors, including Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

In response, the United States has sent naval ships past some disputed islands, with the aim of showing that they are international waters not controlled by any nation. Such moves have further angered Beijing.

China should seek dialogue to try and resolve its territorial disputes with it neighbors across the South China Sea, the Dalai Lama said in an interview with Reuters.

He added that the Asian giant is not threatened by its smaller neighbors, and that the country would benefit from good neighborly relations.

“Long term, it’s in China’s own interests,” he said. “Trust and friendship with neighboring countries is essential; including the United States also.”

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