President Obama deserves praise, and no doubt earned Buddhist merits, for disregarding the Chinese government’s vehement warnings against the meeting he held Saturday in the White House map room with Tibet’s spiritual guide, the Dalai Lama. As much as President Obama has sought to strengthen commercial, military and diplomatic relations with China, there must a limit to the price our country will pay for smooth relations with the Beijing creditor holding our IOUs. Pragmatism taken to an extreme ceases to be pragmatic.
Even though that 45-minute conversation was private rather than official, reporters and cameras were kept out, and Obama let it be known the United States continues to regard Tibet as part of China, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued an angry, threatening complaint. It thundered that the United States was interfering in China’s internal affairs and that the chat between the American president and the Buddhist apostle of non-violence would harm US-China relations.
The reality is that China needs cooperation with America as much as America needs stable relations with China. And there is another reality, of a very different order. China has been conducting a vicious crackdown on Tibetans who refuse to renounce the Dalai Lama. Hundreds of monks and nuns have been arrested and brutalized. And beyond the immediate repression, Beijing is deliberately flooding Tibet with Han Chinese, suppressing Tibetan culture and religion and conducting a long-range campaign to obliterate Tibetans’ identity. The impolite word for China’s behavior in Tibet is colonialism.
An American president today has no choice but to do business with the regime in Beijing. But Obama does not need to pretend that China’s rulers respect human rights — or to ignore their backing for the world’s worst criminal regimes in Sudan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Burma.
The fitting way to answer the charge that Obama is meddling in China’s internal affairs by meeting the Dalai Lama is to tell the complaining communists that they are meddling in America’s affairs when they try to dictate who the president can receive in the White House.