China's response to the upcoming meeting in the White House between
President Obama and the Dalai Lama depends on whether Communist Party leaders believe
their protests will produce a concession from the White House, the exiled Tibetan
spiritual leader's top envoy said Tuesday.
"Of course they will make a lot of noise. They do that all
the time. But they are also rational," said Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, one of
the senior envoys of Tenzin Gyatso, also known as the Dalai Lama. Gyari has been
dealing with Chinese on contentious issues for decades.
"The moment they think they can get something out of
it, they will become relentless. But the moment they realize it's not going to
work, that's it," he said.
The meeting comes after a previous meeting between the two
Nobel Peace Prize winners was canceled during the Dalai Lama's last trip to
Washington last autumn. That meeting was scuttled in part because the Obama
administration did not want to upset U.S.-China relations ahead of the president's
trip to China last November. There was also a hope that the Chinese would
But Gyari said he now has deep reservations about the
decision to scuttle that meeting.
"We had a lot of misgivings, but in the end that was a
decision we took together because we saw some merit in it," he said. "Our
intentions were noble, but I think it was misread by the Chinese."
The envoy said the decision created a setback for Tibet that
showed itself in similar actions by the Danish and French governments. But
Gyari said the greatest concern about the cancelled meeting last year was the
effect it had on the morale of Tibetans inside Tibet.
"Inside they get only some information ... this was
devastating," he said. "As long as the Tibetans inside Tibet know that their
spokesperson, their leader, has the opportunity to intersect on their behalf at
the highest level, no one wants to band their head, to be arrested or tortured.
But when they think that's not happening, that sometimes can actually lead to
Gyari urged foreign governments not to yield to Chinese
pressure about hosting the Dalai Lama, saying that it was equivalent to
agreeing with Beijing's depiction of the lama as a dangerous radical whose real
goal is Tibetan independence, not greater autonomy and religious freedom within
"Whenever any world leader refuses to meet with His Holiness
because of China's protest of him being a ‘splittist,' if they oblige they must
understand they are then reinforcing or they are subscribing to the Chinese
accusation that His Holiness is a splittist. Simple as that."
Much of the coverage of the Obama-Lama meeting will focus on
optics, analyzing the atmospherics and symbols surrounding the summit to infer
what the White House is thinking about engaging the exiled Tibetan leader.
For example, the meeting will be held in the map room at the
White House, not the private residence or the Oval Office, as some early
reports indicated. There is no announced press conference and no planned joint
meeting with Obama, the Dalai Lama, and congressional leaders, as was held in
2007 when Congress awarded the Dalai Lama the congressional Medal of Honor.
But those details are not that important to the Dalai Lama,
Gyari said, who just values the opportunity to meet the U.S. president and
share views and ideas. He did acknowledge that everyone isn't so unconcerned
with such details.
"A lot of people do care ... the Chinese care
because sometimes the substance and form are of equal importance," said Gyari. "And
the Tibetans care."