GOP chides Obama over Dalai Lama

They say the decision not to meet with the spiritual leader of Tibet during his visit to Washington sends the wrong message to Tibet, China and the world on human rights.

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has repeatedly criticized China for its human rights record and is scheduled to present the Dalai Lama with an award on Tuesday. Her office declined to comment for this story.

“The U.S. is kowtowing to Beijing again by refusing to meet with His Holiness,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “This is a policy turned upside down.”

The Tibetan spiritual leader has visited the White House each of the 10 times he has come to Washington since 1991. Most of his visits have been informal, but in 2007, President George W. Bush awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor and became the first president to appear publicly with him.

China has publicly opposed any White House meeting, and the administration has sought to improve ties with the rising global power. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that concern over China’s human-rights record should not “interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate-change crisis and the security crisis.”

The Obama administration is seeking cooperation with China on a range of issues, from imposing sanctions through the United Nations to control Iran’s nuclear program to setting a new economic order for the world by re-balancing trade and savings patterns.

“The Chinese are beginning to dictate what the Obama administration is doing,” said Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.). “Do you think the Chinese will respect this? It’s a sign of weakness.”

Other political leaders, including Pelosi, will be meeting with the Dalai Lama during his visit.

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Pelosi, a longtime China critic, on Tuesday will award him the recently established Lantos Human Rights Prize as part of a Capitol Hill ceremony. The award, named after former Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a Holocaust survivor who died in office last year, is intended to honor those who fight against human-rights violations.

Shortly after a trip to China earlier this year, Pelosi told an audience at the Brookings Institution: “If we do not speak out on human rights in China and Tibet, we lose moral authority.”

The focus of Pelosi’s visit was climate change, and she came under some criticism for not being more critical of China’s human-rights policies during the visit. After her return, she said human rights in China and Tibet remained a “relentless” pursuit of hers, and that she had not seen any improvement during the visit.

Pelosi visited the Dalai Lama at his headquarters in exile in India in 1998. Two decades ago, she unfurled banners in Tiananmen Square to criticize Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists.

Wolf said the administration can honor the Dalai Lama and still continue discussions with China.

“Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union ‘the Evil Empire,’” Wolf said. “But Mikhail Gorbachev still came to his funeral.”