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China's protest over Dalai-Clinton meeting muted

lama April 24, 1997
Web posted at: 12:21 p.m. EDT (1621 GMT)

In this story:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- China's protest on Thursday over an informal meeting between U.S. President Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama was expected, but less harsh than the last time the two leaders met.

China said Thursday that it had complained to the United States for allowing the Dalai Lama to meet U.S. leaders in Washington, but stopped short of saying the meetings would harm ties between the two countries.

"We are strongly dissatisfied with the United States for allowing the Dalai Lama to carry out splittist activities in the United States, and with U.S. leaders for meeting with him," Foreign Ministry spokesman Cui Tiankai said.

But Cui stopped short of saying the meeting, which Beijing had strongly opposed, would affect a Sino-U.S. relationship that both sides have trying to mend after a series of disputes over human rights, trade and Taiwan.

The response was much more muted than its reaction to a similar low-key meeting Clinton held with the Dalai Lama in September 1995. On that occasion, Beijing summoned the U.S. charge d'Affaires to deliver a strong protest.

Clinton promises to discuss Tibet with China

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Clinton "dropped by" Vice President Al Gore's office as Gore and the Tibetan religious leader met Wednesday. The casual-meeting approach has been used before when the White House wanted to meet with controversial figures while preserving relations with other nations.

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said Clinton used the meeting to tell the Buddhist leader he was willing to suggest to China that it enter into talks with the Dalai Lama or his representative. He said Clinton intended to raise the issue when he meets China's President Jiang Zemin in a Washington summit this fall.

McCurry also said Clinton wanted to "convey his respect for the moral leadership of his holiness, the Dalai Lama."

China has refused to talk with the Dalai Lama in the past, and regularly accuses him of seeking to split the Himalayan region from Chinese rule. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed revolt against Chinese rule. He lives in exile in India.

China's leadership insists that he is not a religious leader but a political activist trying to head an independence movement.

The Dalai Lama, who won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his Tibetan autonomy campaign, struck a conciliatory tone Wednesday, insisting that he seeks only self-rule for Tibetans, not independence from China.

"There is no ground for suspicion," he said after his White House meeting. "One of the greatest obstacles... (in the) Tibetan issue, I think is suspicion."

Expected visa for Taiwan leader also controversial

In another U.S. move likely to displease China, a senior State Department official said on Wednesday that Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui was eligible for a U.S. transit visa.

Lee is expected to request permission to touch down en route to a high-level conference for Panama Canal Zone users, scheduled to take place in Panama in September.

China resents any move by Taiwan to boost its diplomatic profile on the world stage. Beijing has regarded the island as a renegade province since Nationalist rulers fled there in 1949 after losing a civil war on the mainland.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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