Obama to meet Dalai Lama

by Stephen Collinson and Shaun Tandon, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 21 2014 08:47 AM | Updated as of Feb 22 2014 10:27 AM

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama will meet Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House on Friday, in an encounter likely to draw the ire of China.

The meeting will take place in the Map Room on the ground floor of the president's residence and not the Oval Office in the West Wing, which Obama usually uses to meet foreign leaders and visiting dignitaries.

The US leader last met the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel peace laureate, at the White House in 2011 in talks that triggered an angry response from Beijing, which said the encounter had harmed Sino-US relations.

With the Dalai Lama already in the United States on a visit, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden announced the meeting.

"The president will meet the Dalai Lama in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader," Hayden said on Thursday.

In a sign of the sensitivity of the occasion, the event was listed on the president's daily schedule as closed to the press.

Hayden also underlined that the United States supported the Dalai Lama's approach but recognized Tibet to be "a part of the People's Republic of China.

"We do not support Tibetan independence," Hayden said.

"The United States strongly supports human rights and religious freedom in China. We are concerned about continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China."

Hayden said the Obama administration would renew calls for the Chinese government to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions.

China has for decades opposed foreign dignitaries meeting the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

The revered Buddhist leader says he advocates greater autonomy for Tibetans rather than independence.

But tensions between Tibetans and the Chinese authorities run high.

More than 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire and committed suicide in recent years to protest what they see as oppression by China's government and controls on their right to exercise their religion.

The Dalai Lama enjoys wide support across the political spectrum in the United States, and is currently on one of his regular visits to the country which will also see him go to Minnesota and California.

In an unlikely audience with free market advocates on Thursday, he called for a humane form of capitalism.

At the conservative American Enterprise Institute, he pointed to late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who started the Asian power's shift toward capitalism in the 1980s, as proof that as evidence that the "centralized economy, no matter how much effort, fail(s)."

"I think Deng Xiaoping (was a) very, very realistic leader," he said.

"He accepted the reality (and had) courage to change the economic system."

But the Dalai Lama also pointed to the gap between rich and poor in the United States -- a central preoccupation of Obama's second term, and to the debates about economic justice in India.

"We need a sense of concern toward other human beings... on the basis of the sense of oneness of humanity," the Dalai Lama said.

Billionaire hedge fund manager Dan Loeb said it was an "incredible honor" to spend time with the Dalai Lama and explained that he has practiced yoga since the start of his career.

"Contemplation and meditation, they are not just for monks and for hermits," Loeb said.

"It can really improve all of our lives - and can really improve (lives) of business people as well."

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