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Ng Han Guan/AP
Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao shake hands after a press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Nov. 17, 2009.

Does Obama’s Meeting With Dalai Lama Signal a New Approach Toward China?

February 17, 2010 09:45 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
President Obama is meeting with the Dalai Lama against the objections of the Chinese government, which may be a sign that he will become more assertive in his dealings with the Asian giant.

Obama to Meet With Dalai Lama

President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, Thursday in Washington despite rebukes by the Chinese government. Obama had canceled a meeting with the Dalai Lama in October in a move that was widely seen as an attempt to placate the Chinese ahead of several key meetings in November and December.

In his first year in office, Obama tried to improve relations by adopting a conciliatory stance and avoiding statements on human rights issues. However, relations have become strained as China has become more forceful in its dealings with the U.S. in the past several months. The two nations have sparred over a number of issues, including climate change, sanctions on Iran, yuan evaluation, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and Chinese cyberattacks on Google.

Opinion & Analysis: The state of U.S.-China relations

The meeting with the Dalai Lama could signal a new direction in U.S.-China relations. The Obama administration, having had little success appeasing China, may shift to a more forceful approach.

The meeting, writes the Economist, is “a moment to demonstrate that Mr Obama is ready both to signal his concern for human rights and that his foreign-policy is becoming more assertive.”

Kelley Currie, senior fellow with the Project 2049 Institute, argues that Obama’s silence on Tibet and human rights issues has reduced his “leverage over Beijing because it shows he’s willing to compromise long-term principles for short-term gains.” But if he takes “more consistent and principled approach on Tibet,” she says, “he could yet recover his footing on China.”

But Martin Jacques, author of “When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order,” writes that Obama’s deference toward China was the correct approach. He believes that the U.S. is in decline and must recognize “that it can no longer assume a relationship of superiority in its dealings with China, and that it has to seek a new understanding of China rather than expect the latter to continue to play second fiddle.”

“Obama was right on two counts: First, the US now has to learn to deal with China on equal terms and, second, it must be mindful of China’s role as its creditor,” he writes.

Others are doubtful that this is truly a new era of U.S.-China relations. Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, believes that the current state of relations is temporary and not a sign of future hostility.

“Beijing’s rulers are ruthless, but cautious, realists,” he writes. “It is unlikely that they have deluded themselves into believing that they are now strong enough to stare down the U.S. … What lies ahead should be familiar to China watchers: After the huffing and puffing is over, Beijing and Washington will start repairing the damage.”

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