BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese government spokesman said Barack Obama should be especially sympathetic to China’s opposition to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence, as a black president who lauded Abraham Lincoln for helping abolish slavery.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang made the comments at a news conference on Thursday, four days before Obama arrives in China for a summit that will cover the two big powers’ vast and sometimes tense economic, diplomatic and security ties.
Obama did not meet Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, when he was in Washington in early October. But the Dalai Lama has said they may meet after Obama’s visit to China, which condemns the Buddhist monk as a separatist for demanding Tibetan self-determination.
China is sure to condemn such a meeting, and spokesman Qin underscored — and possibly intensified — the political temperature of the issue by citing Obama’s background and admiration for President Abraham Lincoln, who opposed the secession of the southern states and sought to abolish slavery, which Qin likened to Tibetan society under the Dalai Lama.
After Obama’s inauguration, the U.S. president said he would not have been able to reach that position without the efforts of Lincoln, said Qin.
“He is a black president, and he understands the slavery abolition movement and Lincoln’s major significance for that movement,” said Qin.
“Lincoln played an incomparable role in protecting the national unity and territorial integrity of the United States.”
Beijing calls the Dalai Lama a dangerous “splittist” encouraging Tibetan independence, a charge he denies. He says he is merely seeking true autonomy for Tibet, which last year erupted in riots and protests against the Chinese presence.
China’s stance was like Lincoln’s, said Qin.
“Thus on this issue we hope that President Obama, more than any other foreign leader, can better, more deeply grasp China’s stance on protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Qin.
Asked about any broader consequences of a possible meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama, Qin said Beijing opposes any such meetings between the exiled Tibetan leader and foreign leaders, and said the issue was among China’s core concerns.
“We must treasure the positive circumstances and opportunities for China-U.S. relations,” Qin said.
“In particular, both sides must respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, and Tibetan issues are among China’s core interests and major concerns.”
(For full coverage of Obama’s Asia tour)
Reporting by Chris Buckley; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ken Wills