Obama meets Dalai Lama amid tense relationship with China

A Saturday meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama has further strained relations between the U.S. and its biggest foreign creditor, China.

Tensions between the U.S. and China, the world’s largest holder of Treasury securities, had already been running high over the possibility of a U.S. default on Aug. 3 or shortly after. 

Still, that did not stop Obama from meeting with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader despite a stern warning from China’s foreign minister.

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Obama met with the Dalai Lama for 45 minutes in the map room where the two Nobel peace laureates discussed the importance of preserving religious, cultural and language traditions of the Tibetan people. Tibet became a part of China after a 1951 military invasion.

Obama reiterated his strong support for preserving Tibetan traditions and underscored the importance of protecting the human rights of Tibetans living in China, according to a statement released by the White House.

“The President commended the Dalai Lama’s commitment to nonviolence and dialogue with China and his pursuit of the ‘Middle Way’ approach,” the White House stated in its press release.

Chinese government officials opposed the meeting and China’s foreign ministry urged Obama to cancel it.

“We firmly oppose any senior foreign government officials meeting with the Dalai Lama in any way,” the ministry said in a statement reported by the BBC and other outlets.

Obama met with the religious leader in February 2010 over strong Chinese objections. Obama declined to meet with him in the fall of 2009, however, a move that was interpreted as an effort to win favor with China’s government.

U.S. lawmakers have long accused China of giving itself an trade advantage by manipulating its currency but relations have grown more tense between the two nations in recent weeks because of a possible U.S. default.

China’s foreign ministry warned the U.S. government to take steps to guarantee against a national default, which could happen next month if Congress fails to raise the federal debt limit by Aug. 2.

A ministry spokesman on Thursday urged the U.S. to adopt “responsible policies and measures to guarantee the interests of investors.”

China held $1.2 trillion worth of U.S. Treasury securities as of April of this year.

Also this week, the Dagong Global Credit Company, a Chinese credit agency, warned that it would downgrade the U.S. credit rating “if there is no significant change in its repayment ability” during a period of probation.

Obama showed some sensitivity to China’s concerns over his scheduled meeting with the Dalai Lama by not holding it in the Oval Office, which is usually reserved for heads of state.

Obama was careful not to stoke any Tibetan nationalist sentiment.

“Reiterating the U.S. policy that Tibet is a part of the People’s Republic of China and the United States does not support independence for Tibet, the President stressed that he encourages direct dialogue to resolve long-standing differences and that a dialogue that produces results would be positive for China and Tibetans,” read the White House statement.

The White House reported the Dalai Lama “stated that he is not seeking independence for Tibet and hopes the dialogue between his representatives and the Chinese government can soon resume.”

President Obama with the Dalai Lama, White House photo

White House photo of President Obama with the Dalai Lama.