16:29 GMT21 February 2020
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    The Dalai Lama made headlines last month when he said he would like to meet President-elect Donald Trump after the latter steps into office, raising the ire of Chinese observers and leading to warnings that the meeting may ruin US-Chinese relations. Speaking to Radio Sputnik, Tibetan studies professor Robert Barnett explained why this won't happen.

    Last month, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader told reporters that he would like to visit the US to meet with Trump after he becomes president. As expected, the Dalai Lama's comments raised concerns in Beijing, where he is considered a dangerous separatist and possibly a CIA agent. Subsequently, commentators have warned that a meeting between Trump and the Dalai Lama may sour ties between Washington and Beijing.

    Speaking to Radio Sputnik, Robert Barnett, director of Modern Tibetan Studies at Colombia University, explained why in and of itself, such a meeting, if it even takes place, probably won't affect US-China ties.

    First of all, Barnett noted, there's actually no sign yet that any meeting has been scheduled. "This was just a statement by the Dalai Lama; he doesn't speak very good English. I think he meant that he would like to meet with Trump. [But there is] no sign that there has been any discussion of this with the Trump people."

    Secondly, the academic stressed that if the meeting did take place, "yes…China will be upset, but it would also be par for the course; there have been many such meetings with previous presidents, and it hasn't changed US relations with China so far." Over the past several decades, the Dalai Lama has met with numerous US presidents, including Barack Obama, George.W Bush, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush.

    "The reality," according to Barnett, "is that China has never done anything to America after any of the previous meetings between the Dalai Lama and a US president except talk. It's really interesting: China's been very strong on…expressions of anger when those meetings have happened in the past, but nothing has ever happened in practice."

    The Dalai Lama attending the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, February 5, 2015
    © AFP 2019 / SAUL LOEB
    The Dalai Lama attending the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, February 5, 2015

    "It did make some pushes against Oslo when Norway was accused of being involved in [granting] the Nobel Peace Prize [to] dissident Liu Xiaobo [in 2010]; they got a little bit of pushback on trade, and they got isolated for several years diplomatically. But actually little has happened to other countries; their trade usually remains just the same with China as it has been before, according to figures that I've been able to study. So most of this is rhetorical."

    In any case, Barnett said, "the Dalai Lama is not due to visit America again until late spring – April or May…The administration would be in some sort of shape, one assumes. It would have four-five months to get itself in order."

    Ultimately, the academic suggested that "the big issue is: is it true, as China claims, that the Dalai Lama is still a separatist? He certainly supported independence for Tibet for about 20 years, until about 1974-1975 or maybe 1980, but he's been very firm in saying that he wants Tibet to be part of China [for] the last 20-25 years more or less. So the problem is that China refuses to accept his insistence that he's willing to come back to China and recognize Tibet as part of China."


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    interview, radio interview, expert commentary, Donald Trump, Dalai Lama, Tibet, China, United States
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