When the Dalai Lama came for Tea

As China and America became more and more intertwined economically, what seems apparent is this relationship is far from an easy one. The tensions are all too prominent when it comes to the differing views of these nations on issues such as Tibet and Taiwan. The meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama is the latest strain on the mutually dependent relationship of the USA and China.



Moreover, this visit by the Dalai Lama speaks volumes for the state of the relationship between these global heavyweights. This meeting has and will continue to be interpreted as more than a simple catch-up between two world figures. Despite China calling for Washington to cancel this visit, the American President and his staff kept strong dismissing China’s request.  China in reaction to this ‘defiance’ stated, “We firmly oppose any foreign official to meet with the Dalai Lama in any form.” This has raised concerns internationally as to the outcome of the USA quite publicly and arguably recklessly dismissing China’s concerns and in by doing so adding strain to this already complex relationship.

However, it can be argued that China is simply acting as a ‘spoilt child’, flexing its diplomatic muscle, a result of its increasing economic prowess. China’s two most important areas of controversy in the recent period have been the issues of Tibet and Taiwan (Taipei). China views both of these places as part of its territories’ using military strength  to crush rebellion in the case of Tibet. However, Taiwan has been a long time ally of the USA especially in terms of a trading partner. In 2010, Taiwan was the United States’ 9th-largest trading partner; Taiwan’s two-way trade with the United States amounted to $61.9 billion in 2010. This relationship despite the bitter Chinese/Taiwanese history and continual sour relationship has not been met with the same protest by the Chinese.

Moreover, the act of meeting a leader such as the Dalai Lama for a supposed ‘progressive President’ does have many consequences for China and Tibet.  This meeting can be seen as an act of American defiance in the face of a growing superpower in China. This could be seen as an exhibition of how America is reluctant to leave the top position in the international arena, a demonstration of how America will not go quietly in the face of China as a global challenger.

Furthermore, this event seems to be the opposite of the defiance mentioned above and more of a mollycoddling of China by making this event as low key as possible. This is noted in behaviours such as, the releasing of One picture  by the Obama administration and the scheduling to meet in the Map room not the Oval office, all part of clever politicking of the Obama administration to underplay this event in order to limit the damage of this visit for the Washington Beijing relationship.

This is in comparison to the Bush administration, which not just met the Dalai Lama but also gave him the most prestigious civilian award in America, the Congressional gold medal. The differing styles of these two administrations in dealing with international diplomacy is most prominently seen when dealing with the Chinese- Tibet issue. Bush, an ‘old-Fashioned’ Republican President with the mantra of America, ‘the most important country in the World’ attitude, ignoring China and its warnings, and indicating that America is still the superpower of the day. On the other hand, Obama seen internationally as a ‘progressive Democrat’ liberal in tendency, meets the same controversial figure but carefully maintains, as much as possible, the political and economic relationship indicating a realisation of China’s growing importance for the USA.  This is seen with the downplaying and demoting of the scale of this visit resulting in a limitation of damage done to the Washington and Beijing relationship.

Regardless of administration, America is struggling with the idea of realising it is a declining superpower. Obama’s clever manoeuvring of this event, meeting a controversial figure (in the eyes of the Chinese) while minimising this occasion. An example of a different style of Presidency offered by Obama compared to the previous Republican one. A Presidency that was expected with the ‘Yes we can’ days leading up to the 2008 Presidential election.  What shall be interesting is the future of the Sino-American relationship. As is readily known, China’s relationship with North Korea is a ‘bone of contention’ not just in America but the rest of ‘the west’. All these tensions seem to be an inevitable consequence of this increasingly complex and dependent relationship. If the Anglo-American relationship can be described as ‘special’, the Sino-American relationship should certainly be described as ‘complicated’.


About Henry Fowler

Unite Branch Secretary. Labour Party. Trade Union officer.

Posted on July 22, 2011, in Coalition Government, Foreign Affairs, Looking Forward, US Politics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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