Washington President Bush extended a carefully measured welcome to the Dalai Lama on Wednesday despite complaints from China. He said he supported the exiled Buddhist leader's efforts to begin talking with Chinese leaders about preserving Tibet's religious and cultural identity.
China, while marking the 50th anniversary of its rule over Tibet, condemned the White House meeting, saying that the reception and the U.S. visit of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian indicated a toughening stance against China.
Bush, along with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, greeted the Dalai Lama in the White House residence, not the Oval Office. Bush aides stressed that he received the Dalai Lama in his capacity as a religious leader, and that the visit did not indicate a shift in policy toward China.
"The president commended the Dalai Lama's commitment to nonviolence and declared his strong support for the Dalai Lama's tireless efforts to initiate a dialogue with the Chinese government," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
In China, however, state television reported that Luo Gan, the Communist Party's top cadre for law and order, told officials the Dalai Lama was "traveling further and further down the separatist road." The official Xinhua News Agency said Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong lodged a formal diplomatic protest of Chen's visit with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
"Obviously, we took that on board," said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker. "We've certainly heard the Chinese views before on that subject."
State media portray modern Tibet as an increasingly prosperous land where religious freedom thrives, education is universal and residents rally behind the government in Beijing. The "peaceful liberation" of Tibet by Chinese forces in 1950 "marked the first step for people in Tibet toward sunshine and happiness from darkness and suffering," Xinhua said.
China sealed its control over Tibet with a 17-point agreement signed with representatives of the Dalai Lama in Beijing on May 23, 1951, after Tibetan forces surrendered to a superior Chinese army. Beijing considers the agreement a symbol of the legitimacy of its claim over Tibet.
A major uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 was suppressed by Chinese forces. The Dalai Lama then fled to India, where he repudiated the agreement, claiming the Tibetan officials were coerced into signing it.
The Dalai Lama said he told Bush he is seeking "genuine self-rule" as "a mutually equitable solution" for Tibet and China, and Bush shared that approach.
"I assured to him that in the future, whenever the president has an opportunity to meet with the Chinese leader, he can assure the Chinese government I'm not seeking independence," the Dalai Lama said.
He said Bush showed him "very genuine, human, warm feelings. That I very much appreciate."
Fleischer said Bush repeated that the United States would "support the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity, and the protection of the human rights of all Tibetans."
Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's special envoy, said the spiritual leader stressed that there would be "dangerous consequences to the Tibetan identity" if China's policies toward Tibet go unchanged, and felt encouraged by the reception he received from the Bush administration.