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China calls on U.S. to scrap meeting between Obama and Dalai Lama

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
February 21, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The White House announces the meeting will take place Friday in Washington
  • Beijing says that by holding it, Washington will " severely impair China-U.S. relations"
  • China accuses the Dalai Lama of being a separatist who foments unrest in Tibet
  • But he denies he's seeking independence, saying he only want to protect Tibetan culture

Hong Kong (CNN) -- China has urged U.S. President Barack Obama to call off a meeting at the White House with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama that's scheduled to take place Friday.

Dalai Lama: China belongs to the people

"By arranging a meeting between the President and the Dalai Lama, the U.S. side will grossly interfere in the internal affairs of China, seriously violate norms governing international relations and severely impair China-U.S. relations," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement Friday.

The White House on Thursday announced the planned meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile.

Obama has met with the Dalai Lama twice before, in February 2010 and July 2011. China responded to those meetings with similarly angry comments.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of being a separatist who foments unrest in Tibet, a region it claims has been part of China since "ancient times."

The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising, has long denied China's assertion that he's seeking Tibetan independence. He says he wants only enough autonomy to protect its traditional Buddhist culture.

The Obama administration says it supports the Dalai Lama's "Middle Way" approach to the political tensions over protests for Tibetan independence.

"The United States recognizes Tibet to be a part of the People's Republic of China and we do not support Tibetan independence," said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. "The United States strongly supports human rights and religious freedom in China."

Concerns over human rights

Over the past five years, at least 125 Tibetans have set themselves on fire, most of them fatally, to protest Chinese rule, according to Tibetan advocacy groups.

Beijing has taken a tough line on Tibetan self-immolators, their associates and other forms of protest. Tibetans have been convicted of murder in Chinese courts for "inciting" people to set themselves on fire.

The frequency of self-immolations declined during 2013, according to the London-based advocacy group Free Tibet.

"We are concerned about continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China," Hayden said. "We will continue to urge the Chinese government to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions, as a means to reduce tensions."

China rejects accusations of oppression, saying that under its rule, living standards have greatly improved for the Tibetan people.

Beijing has "lodged solemn representations" with the United States over the planned meeting Friday, saying "Tibet-related affairs fall entirely within the internal affairs of China which allow no foreign interference," Hua of the Chinese foreign ministry said.

A meeting between British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Dalai Lama last year cast a chill over relations between London and Beijing, delaying a visit to China by Cameron.

CNN's Steven Jiang contributed to this report.

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