Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Snubbing the Dalai Lama, but kowtowing to the unions

It's traditional that American presidents meet with the Dalai Lama when he visits Washington. But this year, Obama is postponing the presidential meeting so that he can meet with the Chinese leader first. It's all about showing deference...to Hu Jintao.
President Barack Obama will not meet the Dalai Lama during his five-day trip to the U.S. capital beginning on Monday, the first time in 18 years the exiled Tibetan leader has visited Washington without seeing the president.

Obama instead intends to wait until after his November summit with Chinese leader Hu Jintao before meeting the Dalai Lama, possibly sometime in December, officials said.

The decision to break precedent and delay any meeting was conveyed to the Dalai Lama last month when Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and State Department Undersecretary Maria Otero traveled to Dharamsala, India, to explain the administration's approach on Tibet.

"The administration, I think, is aware it is breaking a precedent ... but clearly they have their reasons for that and he (the Dalai Lama) agreed with the decision that was made," said Kate Saunders, a spokeswoman for the Tibetan Buddhist leader....

Saunders said the Dalai Lama actually agreed with the Obama administration's decision and believed it was important the United States and China develop a good relationship.

The Dalai Lama believes "it is important for it to be strong, it's important for it to be cooperative," she said.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "We have made clear that the president absolutely intends to meet the Dalai Lama."
As Jim Geraghty points out, this is another expired promise from Barack Obama. Of course, the Obama administration argues that this isn't an insult to the Dalai Lama, just a postponement while the President works his charm on the Chinese government. This is in alignment with Obama's entire approach to foreign policy - don't offend our enemies or competitors and snub or shaft our friends. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Obama has found time to have meetings with Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, and Vladimir Putin. But he can't fit the Dalai Lama into his schedule.

And don't buy the storyline that it's all about building a better relationship with China. When Obama's real leaders, the unions whistled, Obama was quite ready to offend the Chinese on tariff issues on imported tires.
In other words, not offending Chinese President Hu Jintao is a higher U.S. priority, at least on Tibet. By contrast, Mr. Obama was more than willing to risk offending China by imposing tariffs on Chinese tires last month to please his union supporters.
The contrast is clear. When it comes to the unions, Obama will heel, but not for human rights. The WSJ continues,
This is of a piece with Mr. Obama's other human-rights backsteps, in particular his muted support for democracy in Iran. The Dalai Lama has met with the sitting U.S. President a dozen times, as well as with Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle (including a certain Senator Obama in 2005). Although Beijing complained about these meetings, there were no serious costs to the U.S.-China relationship. George W. Bush met with the Dalai Lama in May of 2001, in advance of his first trip to China, and thereafter made clear that meetings with him were nonnegotiable.

These Presidential meetings are important because they affirm the religious and democratic freedoms America stands for, while setting a global precedent. China routinely assails countries whose leaders meet with the Dalai Lama, targeting France and Germany in recent years by cutting off diplomatic exchanges, canceling conferences and the like. Perhaps the Administration is hoping for a return favor from Beijing for snubbing the man Chinese leaders label a "splittist" and a "wolf in sheep's clothing." But rewarding China's bullying only encourages such tactics.

On Wednesday, the Dalai Lama will honor the late Julia Taft, who spoke out against Chinese abuses in Tibet as coordinator on Tibetan issues in the Clinton Administration. He'll also meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and perhaps he can wave at the White House on his way to Capitol Hill. It's becoming clear that Mr. Obama's definition of "engagement" leaves plenty of room to meet with dictators, but less for those who challenge them.
I guess the Dalai Lama is one person to whom Obama is not willing to extend the open hand.