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BEIJING – Any meeting between President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama would harm bilateral relations, China warned Tuesday while repeating Beijing’s refusal to discuss Tibet’s status with the spiritual leader’s envoys.
An Obama meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader would “seriously undermine the political foundation of Sino-U.S. relations,” said Zhu Weiqun, executive deputy head of the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department in charge of recent talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives.
Zhu was speaking at a news conference where he said Chinese officials told the envoys that Beijing would not make any compromises on its sovereignty over the Himalayan region and that both sides’ views remained “sharply divided.”
The warning to Obama comes after signals from U.S. officials in recent weeks that Obama might soon meet the exiled Tibetan leader – something Chinese officials are keen to avoid before President Hu Jintao travels to Washington, possibly in April.
Zhu said any arguments that the Dalai Lama was just a religious figure were wrong, calling the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate the “head of a separatist group.”
No date for Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama has been announced, but White House spokesman Mike Hammer said last month that “the President has made clear to the Chinese government that we intend to meet with the Dalai Lama, it has been his every intention.” The White House did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday night.
Bilateral relations have already been strained by the U.S. announcement Friday that it planned to sell $6.4 billion worth of arms to Taiwan.
Beijing quickly suspended military exchanges with Washington and announced an unprecedented threat of sanctions against the U.S. companies involved in the sale.
Zhu did not give any details on what China would do if Obama meets the Dalai Lama. “We will take corresponding measures to make the relevant countries realize their mistakes.”
Representatives of the United Front met over the weekend with two emissaries of the Dalai Lama for their first talks in 15 months, but Zhu said China would discuss only the future of the exiled spiritual leader – not any greater autonomy for Tibet.
“There is no room for negotiation or concession on the part of the central government on these issues,” Zhu said.
At the last talks in 2008, China rejected a proposal presented by the Dalai Lama’s envoys for a way for Tibetans to achieve more autonomy under the Chinese constitution – a key demand of the minority community.
During this latest round of talks, the envoys made no revisions or concessions to the proposal, particularly on the position that the Tibetan government-in-exile represented the interests of the Tibetan community, Zhu said.
Zhu said the Chinese government was the only legitimate representative of the Tibetan people, not the envoys sent by the Dalai Lama. He said Beijing was open to future talks but only to discuss the return of the Dalai Lama, who is 75.
“We do want to make it a channel for the Dalai Lama to redress his mistakes,” Zhu said. “We do hope that in the remainder of his life, he can think well about his own future. We don’t want him to end up in foreign soil.”
Zhu said China arranged for the envoys to visit late communist founder Mao Zedong’s former residence in Shaoshan in central Hunan province, as well as to see a region home to Miao and Tujia ethnic minorities.
China maintains that Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say the region was functionally independent for much of its history.
Beijing demonizes the Dalai Lama and says he seeks to destroy China’s sovereignty by pushing independence for Tibet. The Dalai Lama has maintained for decades he wants some form of autonomy that would allow Tibetans to freely practice their culture, language and religion under China’s rule, not independence.
Tibetan areas have been tense in recent years, with the minority community complaining about restrictions on Buddhism, government propaganda campaigns against their revered Dalai Lama, and an influx of Chinese migrants that leave Tibetans feeling marginalized. Those feelings boiled over in deadly anti-Chinese riots in 2008 that shocked Beijing’s leaders.
Associated Press – February 2, 2010
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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