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China Angry, But Will Get Over Obama, Dalai Lama Meet

(Pete Souza)
This story was filed by CBS News China correspondent Celia Hatton in Beijing.
Every night this week, fireworks have illuminated the skies of Beijing for the Chinese New Year.

Friday's fireworks, however, came early in the morning, when the Chinese government issued an angry statement deriding President Obama for spending an hour with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

President Obama "grossly violated the norms governing international relations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu wrote. The United States must stop interfering in China's internal affairs and make concrete actions to maintain healthy and steady growth of China-U.S. relations, he added.

Chinese leaders believe the 75-year-old monk, who fled Tibet when the region was invaded by China in 1959, is scheming to attain political independence for his homeland. Tibet's political status is an internal matter for China, authorities here argue, leaving no place for input from Washington.

President Obama is believed to have declined a meeting with the Dalai Lama last October, to avoid tense relations with his Chinese counterparts before his first visit to China in November. In Beijing, China's leaders reportedly urged the President to refrain from ever meeting with their Tibetan rival.

Since that trip, relations between Beijing and Washington have gone steadily downhill. The long list of disputes kicked off in earnest at the Copenhagen climate change summit, when China and the U.S., the world's carbon emissions giants, failed to find common ground.

China then refused the Obama administration's request to revalue its currency. That was followed by ongoing trade disputes on items ranging from steel to chicken. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton then publically backed Google in its stand against the Chinese government's internet censorship. Beijing was incensed when the U.S. sold $6.4 billion of weaponry to Taiwan, a disputed region that China claims as its own.

The White House tried to downplay Thursday's closed-door meeting, choosing to release just a single photo of the event. But, the fact that the two men met at all was enough to anger Beijing.

Nonetheless, there might never be a good time for a U.S. president to meet the Dalai Lama. Since George Bush Sr. was in office, each successive American leader has met the Tibetan, and each time, Chinese authorities have issued loud objections in response.

So far, Sino-U.S. ties have weathered the inevitable storm that follows, and it is unlikely China will do much more to protest the Dalai Lama's latest visit.

That does not mean, however, that the issue has been resolved. For weeks, China's state-controlled media have echoed the unhappiness of the government.

"What would the U.S. government feel and do if Chinese leaders meet someone who has been carrying out activities for the independence of one of its states, say Alaska?" writes China Daily op-ed columnist Zhu Yuan, adding that President Obama "is giving the impression that he told lies or at least did not speak from the bottom of his heart when promising to promote Sino-U.S. relations."