Barack Obama somehow couldn’t carve out any time in his busy — nay, Olympian — schedule to meet with the Dalai Lama, despite almost two decades of precedents for presidential tetes-a-tetes with the Tibetan leader-in-exile. The Telegraph reports that the decision is no scheduling accident, but a deliberate snub predicated on diplomatic pressure from China:
It means Mr Obama will become the first president not to welcome the Nobel peace prize winner to the White House since the Dalai Lama began visiting Washington in 1991.
The Buddhist monk arrived in Washington on Monday for a week of meetings with Congressional leaders, celebrity supporters and interest groups, but the president will not see him until after he has made his first visit to China next month.
Samdhong Rinpoche, the Tibetan prime minister-in-exile, has accused the United States and other Western nations of “appeasement” toward China as its economic weight grows.
“Today, economic interests are much greater than other interests,” he said.
Mr Obama’s decision dismayed human rights and Tibetan support groups, who said he had made an unnecessary concession to the Chinese, who regard the Dalai Lama as a “splittist”, despite his calls for autonomy rather than independence for Tibet. The Chinese invaded in 1950, forcing the young leader to flee.
This is quite a departure for Obama, who called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics to protest a brutal crackdown on dissent in Tibet. Human-rights advocates are dismayed at the reversal, including some in Congress, who see this as dangerous appeasement. The administration says through its sources that it wants to focus on Chinese cooperation on North Korea and Iran and do not want to annoy China unnecessarily ahead of those negotiations.
This is an instance where everyone on all sides make too much of the situation. While no one disputes that China’s rule over Tibet has been brutal and totalitarian, it’s been about the same as its rule everywhere else in China. The Dalai Lama has been an international celebrity for many years, but successive meetings with presidents have done nothing to change Tibet’s status. Furthermore, American Presidents have to focus on America’s needs, and if Obama can get China to bend on North Korea and especially Iran, skipping one meeting with the Dalai Lama would be well worth it.
Obama will be President for another three years, during which he will have plenty of time to meet personally with the Dalai Lama. In fact, even the Telegraph reports that the White House tried to get the Dalai Lama to reschedule his visit for after Obama’s negotiations with China, presumably allowing Obama to then meet him personally, but that request was refused. That certainly seems like the Obama administration made a good-faith effort to balance human rights with our need to gain cooperation with China on Iranian nukes.
I don’t think that snubbing the Dalai Lama will gain us that cooperation, of course, but avoiding a deliberate diplomatic provocation hardly counts as appeasement. In this case, I’d say that the Obama administration got it right, and that American interests trump a photo op with the Dalai Lama.