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Dalai Lama Meets With President Obama; China Objects

President Obama greets the Dalai Lama at the entrance to the Map Room of the White House Wednesday.
Pete Souza
The White House
President Obama greets the Dalai Lama at the entrance to the Map Room of the White House Wednesday.

The Dalai Lama, visiting the White House today, offered President Obama condolences for the Orlando shootings.

The president and the Tibetan spiritual leader also talked about issues facing Tibetans living within China. The White House said in a statement:

"The President emphasized his strong support for the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions and the equal protection of human rights of Tibetans in China."

The White House also said that the president "reiterated the longstanding U.S. position that Tibet is a part of the People's Republic of China, and the United States does not support Tibetan independence." The meeting, significantly, took place in the White House Map Room, not the Oval Office where the president meets with foreign heads of state.

Still, despite the president's efforts over the years to reassure China on this issue, Chinese officials expressed consternation over the meeting. During a press conference earlier in the day, China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang said:

"The 14th Dalai Lama is not a pure religious figure, but a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-China separatist plots under the cloak of religion. If the US arranges such a meeting, it will send a wrong signal to the separatist forces trumpeting "Tibetan independence", and jeopardize China-US mutual trust and cooperation. China urges the US to honor its commitment of "recognizing Tibet as part of China and not supporting Tibetan independence", and stop supporting any Tibetan-independence forces."

After a failed uprising in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India from Tibet. Today, the religious leader says he supports greater autonomy for Tibet but not outright independence from China. The White House says the president expressed support for this "middle way" approach to Tibet.

The meeting comes amid somewhat strained relations between the world's two largest economies. U.S. officials have called on China to halt its controversial island-building and land-reclamation projects in the South China Sea. There have also been repeated instances where hackers thought to be linked to the Chinese government have gained access to the computer systems of private U.S. companies and the U.S. government. For its part, China has objected to, among other things, the recent decision by the U.S. to authorize arms sales to China's neighbor Vietnam.

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NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.