- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2010

BEIJING | Any meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama would harm bilateral relations, China warned Tuesday while repeating Beijing’s refusal to discuss Tibet’s status with the spiritual leader’s envoys.

An Obama meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader would “seriously undermine the political foundation of Sino-U.S. relations,” said Zhu Weiqun, the executive deputy head of the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department who was in charge of recent talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives.

Mr. Zhu spoke at a press conference where he said Chinese officials told the Dalai Lama’s envoys in their weekend talks that Beijing would not make any compromises on its sovereignty over the Himalayan region and that both sides’ views remained “sharply divided.”

China maintains that Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say the region was functionally independent for much of its history and consider the Dalai Lama their rightful leader.

The Dalai Lama’s representatives said China’s warnings came across as high-handed, but they said they would keep pursuing dialogue with Beijing despite their differences.

“The reaction of the Chinese reflects a certain unfortunate arrogance. It’s unbecoming of a nation with such a long history,” Lodi Gyari, one of the Dalai Lama’s emissaries, told reporters in Dharamsala, India. “We hope China behaves in a more mature way as they have to play an important role in the international arena.”

The talks showed no signs of producing any breakthroughs as both sides stuck to the positions they had assumed when they last met in November 2008 and the discussions had ended in deadlock. Beijing has refused to discuss the status of Tibet with the emissaries, saying the Chinese would only address the Dalai Lama’s return to China.

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against China, leads a government-in-exile in India. Beijing has accused him of trying to split the country — a charge he denies — and often lodges protests against his travel abroad and meetings with heads of state.

The warning to Mr. Obama comes after signals from U.S. officials in recent weeks that the president might soon meet the exiled Tibetan leader — something Chinese officials are keen to avoid before President Hu Jintao travels to Washington, possibly in April.

No date for Mr. Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama has been announced, but White House spokesman Mike Hammer said last month that “the president has made clear to the Chinese government that we intend to meet with the Dalai Lama, it has been his every intention.” The White House did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday night.

Mr. Zhu did not give any details on what China would do if Mr. Obama meets the Dalai Lama, saying only: “We will take corresponding measures to make the relevant countries realize their mistakes.”

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