China filed a formal diplomatic complaint with the U.K. after Prime Minister David Cameron met the Dalai Lama, saying relations between the two countries had been “seriously damaged.”
The meeting in London yesterday “seriously damaged the feelings of the Chinese people,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing in Beijing today. “It has also seriously damaged the relations between China and the U.K. China asks the U.K. to respond to China’s solemn demand and stop conniving and supporting Tibetan separatists.”
Cameron’s spokesman told a regular government briefing in London he wasn’t aware of the protest and said there was no intention that the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader’s trip to Britain should harm relations. The meeting at St. Paul’s Cathedral was a private one, he said, giving no further details.
“The Dalai Lama is an important religious figure,” the spokesman, Steve Field, told reporters. “We do not want to see our relationship with China disrupted by the visit of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama travels all over the world and has visited the U.K. several times in the past,” holding meetings with Cameron’s predecessors, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.
China’s reaction to the London meeting echoed that when President Barack Obama welcomed the Dalai Lama at the White House in February 2010. That meeting, along with U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, strained ties that year. Following that meeting, Chinese spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the U.S. “grossly violated the norms governing international relations.”
A second meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama in Washington last year, which came before reciprocal visits by Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, went ahead with a milder protest. Hong said at the time that China “firmly” opposes “any foreign official to meet with the Dalai Lama in any form.”
The Dalai Lama has lived in India since fleeing Tibet in 1959 from China’s military takeover. China accuses the Nobel Peace Prize winner of waging a campaign for independence while he says he is seeking autonomy for Tibet.
France’s former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, roiled China-France relations in 2008 by meeting the Dalai Lama in Poland. China postponed a summit with the European Union that year and Premier Wen Jiabao skipped France during a visit to Europe in early 2009. China agreed to resume high-level contacts with France later that year.