Updated: February 20, 2010 02:31 IST

Seriously damaged ties, says China

Ananth Krishnan
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The Dalai Lama speaks to reporters after a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday. China has criticised the meeting, saying
The Dalai Lama speaks to reporters after a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday. China has criticised the meeting, saying "the U.S. has interfered in China's internal affairs".

China has voiced its strong opposition to the United States President Barack Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, warning it had “seriously damaged” Sino-U.S. ties.

The Chinese government on Friday summoned the U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, in Beijing, lodging “a solemn representation” to express its displeasure at the U.S. “obstinately” arranging the meeting.

“The U.S. has grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, gravely hurt the Chinese people’s national sentiments and seriously damaged Sino-U.S. ties,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu said.

Mr. Ma’s was the fourth strongly-worded statement the Chinese government has issued in recent weeks over Thursday’s meeting, warning Mr. Obama that holding talks with the exiled Tibetan religious leader would damage the two countries’ relationship.

Political analysts in Beijing have dubbed this week’s sparring “the Dalai round of tensions” – only the latest in a growing list of spats the year has seen, including Chinese anger over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, Washington criticising China’s valuation of its currency and the cyber-attacks on Google, which the U.S. says originated from China.

Last month, China suspended military exchanges with the U.S. following Washington’s announcement of a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, including Patriot missiles and Black Hawk helicopters. In a stronger-than-usual response to the arms sales, China also imposed sanctions on the U.S. companies involved in deals with Taiwan.

Officials in Beijing have, however, privately underplayed the longer-term impact of the Tibetan religious leader’s meeting on China’s ties with Washington. While they accept it has further strained an already tense atmosphere, they point to the interdependence between the two countries on a range of issues, from trade to international matters such as nuclear proliferation and North Korea, to stress that overall engagement will continue unaffected.

On Thursday, China granted permission for the USS Nimitz, the American aircraft carrier, to dock in Hong Kong, amid concerns the visit would be stopped in light of the recent tensions. It was a signal, analysts said, that engagement would continue as before.

U.S. officials defended Thursday’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, stressing that Mr. Obama met with him only in the context of his being “an internationally respected religious leader”.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: “We think we have a mature enough relationship with the Chinese that we can agree on mutual interests, but also have a mature enough relationship that we know the two countries are not always going to agree on everything.”

China, however, accuses the Tibetan leader of being a “splittist”.

“The Dalai Lama’s words and deeds have shown that he is not a pure religious figure, but a political exile who has all along been engaged in separatist activities under the pretext of religion,” Mr. Ma said.

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