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Meetings with the Dalai Lama should be deterred, not just deferred
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07:59, September 24, 2009

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By Li Hongmei People's Daily Online

Now that the Sino-U.S. ties are regarded as one of the most important bilateral relations as oft-heralded by the high-ranking officials from the Obama administration, the U.S. government needs to take some substantial steps poised for future rather than continuing to be dragged down by the unpleasant legacies.

It is widely admitted that following President Barack Obama's ascendancy, the bilateral ties have somehow warmed up as a result of the economic interdependence in the backdrop of the global recession, and the softening criticism of some American hawks to China. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi highly touted the importance of China-U.S. relations during their Beijing visit, and Ms. Clinton even described the ties in the poetic rhetoric as 'both crossing the river in a same boat.'

Good times don't last long, however. The news that Obama has quietly postponed an audience with the Dalai Lama until after his first official visit to China in November seemed to have proved yet another flip-flap on its China policy, and sent the bilateral relations on the mend plummeting again, in the wake of Obama's decision to slap a 35 per cent import duty on tires from China, which had even been vetoed by the former President George W. Bush and would set a bad precedent in the ongoing global fight against trade protectionism.

Things are getting bewildering in terms of Obama' olive branch waved to China. It still remains a blurred outline since Obama set pen to paper reshaping his diplomatic blueprint, in a desperate attempt to depart from the previous administration. But most probably, his campaign promise 'change' would be merely seen in form, not in content, at least regarding his China policy.

Last week, Obama sent a delegation led by White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and Under Secretary of State Maria Otero, who has been designated special coordinator for Tibetan issues, to Dharamsala in India to meet the exiled political monk to explain the administration's Tibet policy and assured him there could be a meeting after Obama's Beijing trip.

Obama's top-level emissaries explained that because Obama is scheduled to pay his debut visit to China in November, it would be better not to meet the Dalai Lama in October when the globe-trotting politician in saffron visits Washington. Otherwise, this could be a potential second affront to the U.S. biggest creditor following the disputed tire tariff, as today high on American agenda are economic interests, which loom much greater than other issues.

Obviously, to coax China to continue to lend money by buying Treasury bonds will be the core goal in Obama's to-be Beijing trip. But if he intends to achieve some gains, he will have to seek his goal with a clean slate. The smart U.S. president has already learnt how to avoid slipping into the pitfalls, in which some of his European allies have been bogged down.

Last year, Beijing cancelled an important summit with the European Union after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Dalai Lama. In 2007, the bilateral relations between China and Germany went in the deep freeze, because German Chancellor Angela Merkel received the monk in the chancellery. The Obama administration no doubt remembers all this and therefore decided to make a so-called pre-emptive concession to China by stating a meeting with the 74-year-old restless monk would be deferred until after November. On the surface of it, this was a wise tactic, avoiding an awkward situation vis-a-vas China. In essence, however, the wishful thinking of White House would backfire, as China takes meetings with the political monk at any time for any reason as a blatant interference in China's internal affairs.

Obama might as well mull over whether this is a risk worth taking; and in a long run; whether there is likelihood that his core goal could be attained by gravely undermining China's core national interests. What China expects is not simply rescheduling a meeting with the monk trying for decades to split China by lobbying around and vilifying China with sheer lie, but an end to all the involvement and encouragement in any form which would embolden and boost the monk's political ambitions.

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