Obama meets with Dalai Lama: US "does not support independence for Tibet"


President Barack Obama meets with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House, Saturday, July 16, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

China strenuously objected to US President Barack Obama's private meeting today with the Tibetan spiritual and political leader, saying any dialogue with the Dalai Lama "damaged the Sino-American relations."

China has little to worry about, it seems: the White House issued a statement in which Obama stressed 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." But the Dalai Lama himself does not propose "independence," per se, which makes the president's statement seem all the more like an attempt to placate China.

In a statement released after the 45-minute meeting, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama also "underscored the importance of the protection of human rights of Tibetans in China," and "commended the Dalai Lama's commitment to nonviolence and dialogue with China."

More at CNN, Reuters here, here's a New York Times piece, and here is the Xinhua item.


  1. Smart move. It’s always better to be kissing backsides than having a superpower tell you to bend over.

    I hope Dalai gave Obama some pointers on how to set up an exiled US government in Canada or Mexico on the day China forecloses US.

  2. I don’t approve, but I’m not surprised either. If Obama fails in the showdown over the debt ceiling, we will need every bit of support we can get from China to avoid global economic meltdown. Pissing them off over a relative handful of Buddhists would not be a good idea.

    1. we will need every bit of support we can get from China to avoid global economic meltdown.

      Nobody in power cares. The rich get richer when the economy goes to hell. And it’s not like China is in any position to collect on defaulted debts. They’ll just keep complaining about how we hurt their feelings.

    2. Now what is more important for Obama is not to loss any of his potential supporters for re-election. If he is not president what it does matter to Obama that China continue to buy our debts or not, who cares which direction US economy is heading to? Anyway, Obama already has a lot of money in his porcket.

  3. Good. Neither Obama, The Dalai Lama or I support independence of the Tibet region. But as far as I know, the three of us support Human Rights respect, WORLDWIDE.

  4. Cowardice in the face of tyranny and evil; what politicians are known for. Well, most anyways…

  5. Two things:

    1) The President is not wearing a tie. Is The Dalai Lama an exiled head of state? Eh, maybe, maybe not. But is he a holy man and spiritual leader, much like the Pope, and worthy of that respect? Oh, yes. But Obama (on instructions from his protocol consultants, no doubt) goes with the open collar. Tacky – I don’t care if it is Saturday.

    2) Are power and strength the same thing? A country may have a lot of resources and hold a lot of economic sway (power), but a strong country is tolerant of differences and dissent.

    China: We’re pissed off because of “a relative handful of Buddhists” and we’re going to screw with your economy.

    USA: Really? Is that all you got?

    In the words of Bart Simpson: “China, you used to be cool.”

    1. The President isn’t wearing a tie? Really? That’s insulting?

      You did see what the other guy is wearing, right? Somehow I don’t think he’ll mind.

    2. HH the Dalai Lama has said on several occasions (once that I had the opportunity to hear myself, this past May) that the thing he likes most about Americans is our lack of pretense and unnecessary formality. If anything, I imagine Pres. Obama’s appearance was appreciated.

      Also: hasn’t the administration effectively said this before?

  6. I want my change back… FlipFlopFail.

    In an open letter to President Bush sent in April 2008 Senator Obama wrote:

    “It is important that we give high priority to the plight of Tibetans and make clear to President Hu that the way in which China treats all Chinese citizens, including Tibetans, profoundly affects how China is viewed in the United States and throughout the international community.”

    Senator Obama then called for:

    “a negotiation with the Dalai Lama about his return to Tibet; guarantees of religious freedom for the Tibetan people; protection of Tibetan culture and language; and the exercise of genuine autonomy for Tibet. That is the path to the stability and harmony that the Chinese leaders say they are seeking in Tibet.”
    au·ton·o·my   [aw-ton-uh-mee] Show IPA
    noun, plural -mies.
    1. independence or freedom, as of the will or one’s actions: the autonomy of the individual.
    2. the condition of being autonomous; self-government, or the right of self-government; independence: The rebels demanded autonomy from Spain.
    3. a self-governing community.
    Freedom Fail

    1. There is a practical difference between autonomy and independence — they aren’t the same thing. For example, in Ukraine there is the Autonomous Republic of Crimea for the Crimean Tatars. It has a large degree of self-rule but is still part of Ukraine. This sort of thing is more realistic for Tibet than independence.

      1. There is a practical difference between autonomy and independence

        Precisely. There are a lot of minority regions around the world that have autonomy but not independence. As a general term in English they may mean similar things, but in international politics, they’re different.

      2. Either way, freedom is freedom. There is no freedom with China. You do as we say or you go away.

    2. Sorry @DevConcepts – If “truth in advertising” were enforced upon politicians, there would be anarchy.

      (From Wikipedia: Anarchy (from Greek: ἀναρχίᾱ anarchíā, “without ruler”) may refer to any of several political states, and has been variously defined by sources. Most often, the term “anarchy” describes the simple absence of publicly recognized government or enforced political authority.)

      In other words, in extremis, politicians would be ousted from office for having gained office via false claims.

      (Off-topic: have you ever heard of a politician who did NOT promise to “end corruption”?)

  7. China doesn’t care about “Independence” for Tibet, because they know the Dalai Lama doesn’t seek it… they don’t want anybody talking to him, period, because it legitimizes him.

  8. Well, it’s always wiser not to bite the hand that feeds you. Without China buying US Bonds that would mean lots of more trouble for the US Dollar.
    Obama is just a politician, like the guys that came before him and will come after him.

  9. Why does China care about Tibetan independence?

    Wouldn’t this be like Guam separating from the US?

  10. Well, I’m not an apologist but these are all pre-2008 problems and aren’t Obama’s fault. If you want to blame the originator, blame Nixon for even opening relations with China which led to this dysfunctional US/China co-dependency.

    But it makes you wonder why China wants Tibet so much. It’s an insignificant country full of monks with an aging exiled leader.

    1. But it makes you wonder why China wants Tibet so much. It’s an insignificant country full of monks with an aging exiled leader.

      It’s an emo thing.

      1. its also a quasi disneyland for thousands of tourists every month. china makes lots of money from that. also noone is to every not agree with them, because they are always right.

        thats pretty much it.

  11. Lots of misplaced butthurt here. As Sam says, Obama’s inherited decades of this crap; did you expect him to reverse the US policy overnight? I’d also point out that given the Dalai Lama’s retirement as political leader, he’s simply a very well-known spiritual leader. Not a leader in exile.

    1. “Lots of misplaced butthurt here. As Sam says, Obama’s inherited decades of this crap; did you expect him to reverse the US policy overnight?”

      No. But I also didn’t expect him to bend over to gently suckle upon the PRC’s nether regions. Oh wait, yes I did. Because Democrat is a synonym for Republican-Lite.

      The oligarchs are squealing as we squirm.

  12. Such a charming display of compassion from some commenters here. Do the rights of a country not exist when their land is not big enough for your liking?

    I’m saddened by this. I hope President Obama makes clear his position not on freedom for Tibet, but on negotiating for autonomy within the PRC. His statement is vague in that regard.

  13. I imagine Pres. Obama’s appearance was appreciated.

    His body language not so much. His face is to Tibet, but his legs are crossed in the opposite direction, presumably toward Beijing. His arm is gripping the arm of the chair at an extraordinarily awkward angle, as if he’s about to hurl himself away. He’s a postural chimera, with 30% of his body toward the Dalai Lama and 70% trying to skedaddle.

    Put yourself in the position and see what it feels like.

  14. I wish Obama wouldn’t do stuff like this. I thought when I voted for him in 2008 he’d be different on issues like this.

    I suppose he’s in a tough position here. But it just makes me mad. Maybe he can do better after 2012.

  15. Reason #9,000 Obama has given me the buyer’s remorse. What a tool. I do blame myself, after all he was a US senator.

    1. “I do blame myself, after all he was a US senator.”

      Well…. he was “My” senator… Plenty of blame to go around.

  16. This is no change in US policy. Indeed, most countries around the world – to quote a mantra of China state media – “adhere to the one-China policy,” which states that Tibet and even Taiwan are effectively part of the PRC. Every time a foreign leader visits China, that old refrain is cranked out on the TV coverage. By ‘adhering’ to this, all those countries are effectively saying that they are not pursuing independence for either of those places.

    Note that the Dalai Lama himself is also not seeking independence – just open talks with China. But to the knee-jerk Beijing authorities, even that’s untenable.

  17. Cowardice in the face of tyranny and evil; what politicians are known for. Well, most anyways…

    …and those who aren’t? Well we can count the tyrants themselves to start with.

  18. Please remember this:

    Obama is a politician
    Politicians lie
    Everything a politician says in public is a lie

  19. So if Obama isn’t calling for Tibetan independence and the Dalai Lama isn’t asking for it in the first place, what’s the point of this post?

    1. So if Obama isn’t calling for Tibetan independence and the Dalai Lama isn’t asking for it in the first place, what’s the point of this post?

      Perhaps to point out that this is a direct contradiction of the promises Obama made in order to get elected?

      Obama has done quite a few things right – mostly because he’s not an incompetent, illiterate dry-drunk with delusions of hierophancy, so the bar’s been considerably lowered for minimum presidental competency. However he’s fundamentally betrayed the people who voted for him by not ending torture, not reversing Bush-era incursions on civil liberties, and now not calling for Chinese disengagement from Tibet.

      This behaviour was all pretty clearly signaled by Obama’s similar actions over telco immunity, months before the election. That’s why I voted third party – McCain had Palin as the albatross around his neck, and Obama had a history of failure to follow through on his bold, morally unambiguous promises.

      Meh, at least he can talk… GWB made even monopoly-friendly Clinton look good.

  20. Some of these comments are ridiculous. There’s no flip-flop; Obama’s previous comments and the Whitehouse’s current ones are completely consistent with the Dalai Lama’s position, as US policy always* has been. How is snubbing China by meeting the Dalai Lama and completely agreeing with his position on Tibet placating anyone other than the Dalai Lama? Is Obama supposed to announce after the meeting that the Dalai Lama’s position on Tibet is not good enough, and that the US demands Tibetan independence?

    * well, since before Obama anyway.

  21. GWB sold this country to China to fund tax breaks for the wealthy and an unnecessary war. Presidents of both parties will be kissing China’s ass for decades because they have no choice.

    GWB = worst president ever!

    1. GWB? It’s hardly all his fault. Free trade neoliberals run this country and both parties as well. Republicans head to the cliff about 20 mph faster, but Democrats are driving the same direction too.

  22. Reading this photo, and I could be completely wrong here, I glean:

    — President is meeting exiled former head-of-state (well, ok, he’s nominally still in Tibetan gov’t < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibet_Government_in_Exile>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibet_Government_in_Exile but shares power w/Tibetan Prime Minister) in the Map Room. Not the Oval Office. So, see, it’s not sooper-dooper official.

    — In fact, the visit’s so totally not official our president has removed his tie. Heck, this is not even a “State Visit”–no state dinner, no Marine Band playing “Hail to His Holiness” on the tarmac, no aides present, do not pass go do not collect $200–so when the Chinese want to complain (for the nth time) that the U.S. is recognizing H.H.D.L. as some legitimate head of a foreign gov’t we’ve got a smidge of plausible deniability. It was a “private meeting” and dudes we didn’t even sign any papers, mmm’k?

    — Politics is a game. It’s chess. Both of these men have gone on the record supporting Tibetan autonomy over independence because (among other things) there are circles within circles of dealings here we are not privy to. During his own presidential administration, Clinton played this game too, and handed out 1000 U.S. visas (complete with green cards) for Tibetans who largely went on to become U.S. citizens. Who the hell knows what kinda deals are going down that they can’t–sheesh, won’t–talk about? Ever hear of the CIA arming Tibetan rebels in Mustang province during the Chinese invasion of Tibet? Go look it up. We were involved, with precious little fanfare, and I can understand why.

    IMO the Chinese are waiting for H.H. to die before pulling their next #sarcasm brilliant move /sarcasm re: total dominance of the Tibetan Plateau and its resources. H.H. has no illusions here–he knows what he’s dealing with wrt Chinese government. He was informed personally by Mao Zedong in 1954 that “religion is poison,” has watched the Panchen Lama’s imprisonment and manipulation by the Chinese government, and has witnessed firsthand and secondhand slaughter of Tibetans who oppose Chinese rule (a bodycount of 1,000,000+) or even Chinese [thought] control (in 2008, unrest in the region < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Tibetan_unrest>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Tibetan_unrest). To this day, it remains a punishable offense to possess any photo of the Dalai Lama in any area controlled by the Chinese.

    Ham-fisted as the Chinese have been at playing this deadly and stupid chess game, the outcomes so far have been… interesting, to paraphrase the old curse attributed to some Chinese aphorism. Smashing Tibetan culture has been, for the Chinese government, like stepping on a water balloon. The droplets have scattered far beyond anyone’s control, and for better or worse, Tibetan Buddhism among other things has spread much farther and wider than Mao Zedong would have ever dreamed. Sure, Tibetan culture itself is now a horrible mess, subverted and manipulated in bad bad ways that defy words. Tibetans continue to suffer (stoicism and suffering quietly is a deeply-admired trait in Asia; I speak as a half-Asian), though it’s never front page news here in the West.

    But this game ain’t over yet.

    Even as Chinese minders (sometimes posing as monks, sometimes blatantly not) have been placed in Tibetan monasteries, ensuring monasteries remain active sources of tourist revenue even if the monks themselves are not welcome to follow their religious practices or studies, ordinary Chinese citizens have been covertly contacting the monks, asking for religious instruction. These Chinese have sensed that something in their lives is amiss, and maybe, just maybe, those monks may be able to help them somehow. Imagine for a minute being a Tibetan monk and being approached by people whose government killed a million of your people, and now want your help, and they are relying on your compassion to give it to them, compassion that their own government neither fosters nor promotes. Read that Ai Wei-Wei piece from this week? Prison guards doing what to him the entire time? At least he was highly prominent, otherwise they probably woulda just beat the crap out of him.

    I realize there are plenty of nonreligious folks here who may not like or agree with the religious aspects of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, Buddhism, etc. I argue here that there’s is still plenty to learn from this culture, and this man, who have learned much about adversity and who still teach compassion, which is laudable and doesn’t require any belief in god, God, Gawd, or Supreme Creator.

    Xeni, thanks as always for bringing us the Tibetan news round up. Some of us out here, we’re awake. We notice. And we’re grateful for what you’re doing and what your bring to our attention.

  23. “gwb worst president ever”
    at last someone actually who broke USA
    BTW, the same bunch as GWB are gaining power AGAIN in US!
    You guys just never learn

  24. What are ‘sovereignty’ and ‘human rights’? Oh, it doesn’t matter? OK, China, we got your back.

  25. Why be surprised that the President has caved in to pressure from China. He’s caved into the Republicans all through out his presidency.

  26. Well we back all the third world countries wanting democracy.
    Libya,Egypt,Syria, etc. ALL MUSLIM. what about standing up for Tibet? Why do we have to kiss China’s backside? We buy all our stuff from them because the EPA and the UNIONS of the US have ruined our competitiveness. I guess it is a way to eliminate Chinese by letting them die from diseases from manufacturing than Americans. ALL we are left here are LAZY, FAT, SOCIALIST Americans that want handouts. Hopefully this will change as soon as the roadblocks are removed. We need to become independent again and quit relying on the rest of the world.

  27. Tibet is spiritually sexy, other more oppressed places…not so much. Anyway, cultural fetishism, new age spiritualism, fantasies of escaping the Western rat race and chucking it all. Western style capitalism will destroy the fantasy “Shangri La” before the PRC will. Bet on that.

  28. So Obama didn’t wear a tie. I’m just thankful he didn’t show up in Bermuda shorts and flip-flops.

  29. I don’t see what all the hippies in this discussion are freaking out about. Tibet is a part of the People’s Republic of China by nearly every standard international measure. No, it has not “always been a part of China” as the idiots in the PRC government claim, but it is, now, and there’s little in the way of arguing against it. As far as I know, the US has never supported Tibetian independence (at least not in my lifetime), and it doesn’t support it now. The statement about that the US does not support Tibetian independence is not so much bending over for China as it is reiterating obvious long-standing US policy. Even the Dalai Lama has given up independence.

    Our business is the upholding of human rights, and the US frequently (although the Obama administration markedly less-so) complains to China about its dismal human rights record, especially so in Tibet, including, among other things, the oppression/eradication of Tibetian culture and identity as well as political human rights violations.

  30. Remember when US officials told us they didnt want Kosovo to be an independent country in 1999? Yeah.

  31. Just look at that body language, pretty clearly says, hey I work mostly for GE and a handful of profiteering multinationals that specialize in selling weapons and military gear to anyone with the cash, have we got to the point where I just BS you while doing the china kowtow?

  32. It looks like Obama’s got an extra pair of pants on, presumably because the Lama’s not got any.

  33. China:

    When will your leaders realise that they sound like spoilt eleven-year-old children (or nine, maybe) and that this kind of tantrum shrieking does them far, far more harm than the Dali Lama ever could.

    Grow up! Or at least get PR consultants and pretend…

  34. I thought Obama would be the voice of change with things like this for the US, but apparently not.

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