WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed the Dalai Lama to the White House on Friday, casting aside familiar objections from China in favour of a private conversation on human rights with the Tibetan spiritual leader.
The meeting was the third White House sit-down between Obama and the exiled Buddhist monk, and each has sparked condemnations from Chinese officials who have sought to diminish the influence of the 78-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Chinese authorities consider the Dalai Lama a separatist and have accused his supporters of "deceiving" people into setting themselves on fire to protest China's control of Tibet. Shortly before the meeting, a spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry warned it would "severely impair China-U.S. relations."
The White House was somewhat sensitive but also dismissive to the rebuke. The official responses to the meetings have acquired a scripted feel. China's statement and the White House response nearly echoed an exchange after the Dalai Lama's last visit to the White House in July 2011.
A White House spokeswoman emphasized the president was meeting with the world-famous monk in the Dalai Lama's "capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader." The U.S. considers Tibet part of China and does not advocate for Tibetan independence, said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
Still, the Chinese urged Obama to cancel the drop-by and accused him of interfering in their affairs.
"Tibet-related affairs fall entirely within the internal affairs of China, which allow no foreign interference," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement. "The Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the cloak of religion."
The White House said in a statement the president expressed to the Dalai Lama his support for Tibet's "unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions, and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People's Republic of China." Obama also praised his commitment to non-violence and endorsed his "middle way" approach to resolving the long-standing dispute, the statement said.
-- Tribune Washington Bureau