(AP) President Barack Obama will host Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama for a meeting on Friday, the White House said, in a move that could rankle already tense relations between the U.S. and China.
The exiled leader, who is in the U.S. for a speaking tour, is famed for his peaceful struggle for greater Tibetan autonomy that is bitterly opposed by China. The last time he met with Obama, in 2011, China blasted the meeting and said it had damaged Chinese-American ties. China was similarly irked when the two met in 2010.
Friday's meeting was likely to draw further protest from Beijing. China's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in the past, Chinese authorities have denounced the spiritual leader as a separatist and blamed the Dalai Lama for instigating self-immolations by Tibetans inside China.
Obama was to host the Nobel laureate for a private, morning meeting in the White House's map room. Traditionally, when Obama meets with presidents and prime ministers, he hosts them in the Oval Office and allows reporters to witness a short portion of the meeting. The decision to hold the meeting elsewhere and to close the meeting to reporters could signal an attempt to avoid the appearance of a formal meeting between two heads of state.
Seeking to stave off potential controversy, the White House reiterated late Thursday that the U.S. recognizes Tibet as part of China and doesn't support Tibetan independence. At the same time, officials said they were concerned about tensions and deteriorating human rights in China's Tibetan areas, urging Beijing to resume talks with the Dalai Lama or his followers without preconditions.
"The United States supports the Dalai Lama's 'Middle Way' approach of neither assimilation nor independence for Tibetans in China," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council.
Relations between the U.S. and China are already on edge over Beijing's increasingly aggressive steps to assert itself in the region, including in territorial disputes with its smaller neighbors. China's emergence as a leading global economic and military power has strained ties with Washington, and the two have also clashed over cyber theft and human rights.
The Dalai Lama is a frequent visitor in the U.S. During his current three-week visit, he also has public speaking events in California and Minnesota. On Thursday, he delivered a message of compassion and care for humanity while addressing free market mavens at a right-leaning Washington think tank.
Associated Press writers Matthew Pennington in Washington and Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.