China warns of ‘serious damage’ if Obama meets Dalai Lama: report

The warning comes after three weeks of increasingly irate exchanges between the US and China over contentious issues including internet censorship, trade and a decision by the Obama administration to sell £4bn of arms to Taiwan.

Although the Chinese government routinely objects to any foreign leaders meeting the exiled Tibetan spirutal leader analysts say the strength of the latest condemnation reflects genuine anger in Beijing at a perceived hardening of US attitudes towards China.

Zhu Weiqun, a vice minister of the united front work department of China’s ruling Communist Party, which steers policy on religious affairs said any meeting would “seriously undermine” the political basis of China-US relations.

“If the U.S. leader chooses this time to meet the Dalai Lama, that would damage trust and co-operation between our two countries, and how would that help the United States surmount the current economic crisis?” added Zhu.

The apparent linking of the economics to the widely expected meeting comes after Beijing took the almost unprecedented step of threatening economic reprisals against US companies participating in the Taiwan arms deal, including the aircraft maker Boeing.

The White House has yet to formally confirm the timing of a meeting with the Dalai Lama who is due in Washington later this month, however officials have made clear that Mr Obama fully intends to meet the Tibetan leader at some point.

A White House spokesman, Mike Hammer, said last month that “the President has made clear to the Chinese government that we intend to meet with the Dalai Lama, it has been his every intention.”

Mr Obama was accused by rights groups of appeasing the Chinese leadership when he failed to take an opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama before his maiden visit to China last November.

Chinese officials are understood to be keen to avoid a meeting before the Chinese President Hu Jintao makes a reciprocal visit to Washington, possibly this April.

The Tibet issue has always been highly sensitive for the Chinese government, but became more so after widespread riots in 2008 seriously shook the party leadership’s confidence in its control over the Himalayan region.

Beijing regards the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Laureate, as a “dangerous separatist” intent on regaining independence for Tibet which he fled in 1959 after a failed uprising, setting up a government-in-exile in the Indian hill station of Dharamsala.

The Dalai Lama, whose profile on the world stage infuriates Beijing, says he wants “meaningful autonomy” for the region, however the latest round of talks between his representatives and Chinese officials ended last week with both sides “sharply divided” according to the Chinese side.

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