The Obama Administration may think its decision to cold shoulder the Dalai Lama on the Tibetan leader’s upcoming trip to Washington is smart politics. But if the leader of the free world doesn’t stand up for religious freedom, who will?
The news broke earlier this week when an Obama aide told the Tibetans that the President wants to meet Chinese leaders before he meets the Dalai Lama. This is par for the course for an Administration that gave only lackluster support to Iran’s democrats and has made conciliatory overtures to Putin’s Russia and Kim Jong Il’s North Korea.
But it’s still a big departure from a significant and important tradition: President George Bush met the Dalai Lama every time the monk visited Washington; as did President Bill Clinton. The Tibetans hadn’t formally scheduled a meeting with President Obama for next month, but the Dalai Lama had expressed his hope to meet the President on the trip.
Mr. Obama may be trying to smooth the waters after raising tariffs on Chinese tire imports Friday. Or he may think that a Tibet snub will buy him concessions from China when he visits Beijing in November. Or he may be simply caving to Chinese pressure not to have the meeting. China has bullied Australia, Germany, Canada and France in recent years for welcoming the man they label a “splittist.”
By delaying his meeting with the Dalai Lama, Mr. Obama is only rewarding that choleric behavior and giving Beijing more leeway to protest whenever he does work up the nerve to meet the Dalai Lama. It also sends a message to other democracies that it’s acceptable to cave to Chinese pressure.
Also missing from this picture is any understanding of why the Dalai Lama’s cause is so important to both Chinese and U.S. interests. The Dalai Lama advocates the same human freedoms on which the U.S. was founded: Democracy and the right to exercise basic civil liberties, including freedom of worship. China won’t be a stable and prosperous country until it respects these freedoms. And a peaceful China is in everyone’s interests.
President Obama has been in office nearly eight months; that’s twice as long as it took for Messrs. Bush or Clinton to meet the Dalai Lama. The Tibetans certainly understand what’s going on: Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche said Tuesday that “a lot of nations are adopting a policy of appeasement” toward China “even the U.S. government.” This is change we can believe in?