WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama will meet with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Friday at the White House. The meeting could strain already tense relations between the U.S. and China.
The exiled leader, who is in the U.S. for a speaking tour, is famed for his peaceful struggle for greater Tibetan autonomy that China bitterly opposes. The last time he met with Obama, in 2011, China said it damaged Chinese-American ties. China was similarly angered when the two met in 2010.
Friday's meeting was likely to draw further protest from Beijing. China's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, Chinese authorities have denounced the Dalai Lama as a separatist and blamed him for instigating self-immolations by Tibetans inside China.
Obama was to host the Nobel laureate for a private, morning meeting in the White House's map room. Traditionally, when Obama meets with presidents and prime ministers, he hosts them in the Oval Office and allows reporters to witness a short portion of the meeting. The decision to hold the meeting elsewhere and to close the meeting to reporters could signal an attempt to avoid the appearance of a formal meeting between two heads of state.
The White House said Obama is hosting the Dalai Lama in his capacity as a respected religious and cultural leader.
The White House reiterated late Thursday that the U.S. recognizes Tibet as part of China and doesn't support Tibetan independence. At the same time, officials said they were concerned about tensions and deteriorating human rights in China's Tibetan areas, urging Beijing to resume talks with the Dalai Lama or his followers without preconditions.
"The United States supports the Dalai Lama's 'Middle Way' approach of neither assimilation nor independence for Tibetans in China," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council.
Relations between the U.S. and China are already on edge over Beijing's increasingly aggressive steps to assert itself in the region, including in territorial disputes with its smaller neighbours. China's emergence as a leading global economic and military power has strained ties with Washington, and the two also have clashed over cyber theft and human rights.
The Dalai Lama has lived in exiled in northern India since fleeing China in 1959. He is widely respected around the world for his advocacy of peace and tolerance. China accuses him of being a separatist agitator.
The spiritual leader is a frequent visitor in the U.S. During his current three-week visit, he also has public speaking events in California and Minnesota. On Thursday, he delivered a message of compassion and care for humanity while addressing free market mavens at a right-leaning Washington think-tank .
Associated Press writer Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.