The Dalai Lama
WASHINGTON — US President George W. Bush will meet privately on October 16 with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, the White House announced Thursday, despite the risk of angering China.
Bush will meet with the Dalai Lama in a private part of his White House residence away from the prying eyes of the press, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
The US leader has always met privately with the exiled Tibetan leader in the past, probably in a bid to lessen Beijing's fury at such a meeting.
The day after their meeting here Bush will attend a ceremony at which the Dalai Lama will receive the Congressional Gold Medal at Capitol Hill.
China hit out earlier Thursday at the US Congress's plan to award its highest civilian honor to the Dalai Lama, saying it had made "solemn representations" over the plan to the US administration.
"China resolutely opposes the US Congress's awarding of a so-called Congressional Gold Medal and firmly opposes any country and any person using the Dalai Lama issue to interfere in China's internal affairs," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said.
The congressional award is reserved for individuals who display the highest moral courage. Past recipients have included Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Elie Wiesel and Nelson Mandela.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino sought to downplay next week's meeting acknowledging that Bush "understands that the Chinese have concerns about this."
But the US president "believes that as a leader and as the president of the United States and someone who always attends a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony that he is going to go and he will proudly be there to witness the event," Perino said.
"We would hope that the Chinese leader would get to know the Dalai Lama as the president sees him, as a spiritual leader and someone who wants peace."
The Dalai Lama "leads a movement that is aimed not only for independence from China, but for the rights of the Tibetan people," she said.
Although Bush has met privately before with the Dalai Lama, next week will mark the first time that a sitting US president will appear with him in a public event, diplomats in Washington said.
The ceremony comes after China warned Berlin that bilateral ties had been damaged following a meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Dalai Lama last month.
The religious leader also met Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer last month and Australian Prime Minister John Howard in June. He will meet Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper this month.
The Dalai Lama, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was earlier this year named a distinguished professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia -- the first time he has accepted a university appointment.
He is to deliver an inaugural lecture during an October 20-22 visit to the university, which has a prominent Tibetan studies program.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 and set up a Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India after China crushed an uprising against its rule.