By Jeff Mason
US President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama exchanged greetings but did not meet directly at a religious event in Washington closely watched by Beijing, which has warned against any meetings with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.
Both figures were at an annual prayer breakfast in Washington where Obama was scheduled to speak about the importance of religious freedom. The Dalai Lama also attended, seated at a table in the front row across from the president.
Obama nodded and smiled at the Dalai Lama, waving after clasping his hands together in a bow-like gesture toward the Buddhist monk as the event began. Organisers also recognised the spiritual leader, prompting applause.
Senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett was seated at the table with the Dalai Lama, a sign of White House support for his presence.
The exchange may still rile China, which bristles at politicians meeting with the Dalai Lama. After the breakfast event was announced, Beijing said it opposed any country meeting with him under any circumstances.
Before the event, an English-language commentary issued by the state-run Xinhua news agency, which while not a formal statement offers a reflection of Beijing’s thinking, strongly warned against any encounter.
“Chumming with a secessionist is playing with fire,” the agency said.
“If Obama meets the Dalai Lama, he will simply reverse the positive trends established by China and the US in the development of their relations. For all that, any possible meeting or encounter with the Dalai Lama planned by Obama will dampen the hard-won positive momentum in China-US relations,” it said.
The Dalai Lama fled to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and has infuriated Beijing, which. He has said he simply wants autonomy for Tibet and does not advocate violence.
Obama, who the White House has said has a “great relationship” with the Dalai Lama, has previously met with the spiritual leader three times, most recently in February 2014.