Washington, Oct 18: U.S. President George W. Bush has urged China to talk to Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and defended his participation in a lavish American ceremony to honour the latter with the Congressional Gold Medal, America"s highest civilian honour.
“It"s in [China"s] interests to meet with the Dalai Lama," Bush said at a White House press conference. I admire the Dalai Lama a lot. I support religious freedom. He supports religious freedom," The Times quoted Bush, as saying
The Dalai Lama said: “It is a great honour for me to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. It will bring encouragement to the Tibetan people. This award sends a powerful message to those dedicated to promoting peace, understanding and harmony."
Bush repeated his call for China to invite the Dalai Lama to Beijing for talks. Through our history we have stood proudly by those who offer a message of hope and freedom to the downtrodden and repressed," he said.
By attending the awards ceremony in the splendour of the US Capitol"s Rotunda, Bush became the first sitting U.S. President to appear publicly with the Dalai Lama, who is accused by Beijing of seeking Tibetan independence from Chinese rule.
The two men met privately for 30 minutes at the White House on Tuesday night. China"s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, however, expressed his government"s outrage over the event.
“For the US Congress to take this action and the US leader to meet with the Dalai Lama is a violation of the norms of international relations," he said. He accused the US of having “severely hurt" China"s feelings and interfering in its internal affairs.
The ceremony was part of a delicate diplomatic balancing act for Bush. Freedom and democracy are significant themes of his international agenda, but he is also anxious not to undermine the increasingly important economic and geopolitical relationship between Washington and Beijing.
The Bush Administration views China as a vital partner in curtailing the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.
China itself is loath to damage the booming trade relationship with the US and analysts believe that its protests over the Dalai Lama are more for a domestic audience.
Bush said that he told Chinese President Hu Jintao, when they met in Sydney in September, that he was going to attend the award ceremony.
At the same meeting, Bush told Hu that he would attend the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, a far more important gesture to China than Bush"s praise of the Dalai Lama yesterday.
"China is strongly resentful of this and resolutely opposes it, and has made repeated solemn representations to the US side," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Wednesday.
He again urged the US side to correct its wrongdoings and stop interfering in China's internal affairs in any form. It is a gross interference in China's internal affairs," Liu added.
Liu's remarks were the latest response in a string of Chinese protests about the decision to award the Dalai Lama the US Congressional Gold Medal in a public ceremony earlier yesterday.
The meeting is the third since Bush took office in January 2001, but the first public appearance with the Dalai Lama for a sitting US president.
Liu reiterated that Tibet is an inalienable part of China, saying China is firmly against any country and any people using this issue to interfere with its internal affairs.
"Chinese people's resolve to safeguard the nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity is firm and unshakeable," The China Daily quoted the spokesman, as saying.