WASHINGTON- President Barack Obama hosted exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House on Thursday, drawing an angry reaction from China and risking further damage to strained Sino-U.S. ties.
Raising issues that quickly stoked China's ire, Obama used his first presidential meeting with the Dalai Lama to press Beijing, under international criticism for its Tibet policies, to preserve Tibetan identity and respect human rights there.
Obama sat down with the Dalai Lama, who is reviled by the Chinese government as a dangerous separatist but admired by many around the world as a man of peace, in the face of wider tensions over U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan and China's currency practices and Internet censorship.
While defying Chinese demands to scrap the talks, the White House took pains to keep the encounter low-key, barring media coverage of the meeting.
But Beijing clearly was not placated, saying it was strongly dissatisfied and expected Washington to take steps to put bilateral relations back on a healthy course.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama violated the U.S. government's repeated acceptance that Tibet is a part of China and it does not support Tibetan independence.
Issuing a written statement after the hour-long meeting, the White House said: The president commended the Dalai Lama's ... commitment to nonviolence and his pursuit of dialogue with the Chinese government.
Obama encouraged China and the Dalai Lama's envoys to keep up efforts to resolve their differences through negotiations, despite recent talks having yielded little progress.
The White House said Obama and the Dalai Lama also agreed on the importance of a positive and cooperative relationship between the United States and China.
With the two giant economies so deeply intertwined, tensions are considered unlikely to escalate into outright confrontation. The White House expects only limited fallout.
But the Dalai Lama's visit could complicate Obama's efforts to secure China's help on key issues such as imposing tougher sanctions on Iran, resolving the North Korean nuclear standoff and forging a new global accord on climate change.
By going ahead with the meeting over Chinese objections, Obama may have wanted to show his resolve against an increasingly assertive Beijing after facing criticism at home for being too soft with China's leaders on his trip there in November.
(Editing by Eric Beech)