China Protests Dalai Lama Gold Medal

The Dalai Lama is getting the Congressional Gold Medal and having his picture taken with President Bush. The government of China is not amused.

Dalai Lama Gold Medal Photo These images provided by the U.S. Mint shows the obverse (heads) and reverse (tails) sides of the Congressional Gold Medal that will be awarded to the Dalai Lama during a ceremony on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2007. The medal is designed and struck by the Mint individually to honor each specific recipient. (AP Photo/US Mint) The White House vigorously defended President Bush’s plan to meet with the Dalai Lama Tuesday, brushing aside China’s warning that it would damage relations between Washington and Beijing.

Both Bush and members of Congress — who are presenting him with the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday — are stirring anger in China by honoring the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet’s Buddhists. “We solemnly demand that the U.S. cancel the extremely wrong arrangements,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Beijing. “It seriously violates the norm of international relations and seriously wounded the feelings of the Chinese people and interfered with China’s internal affairs.”

At the White House, presidential spokesman Tony Fratto said: “We understand the concerns of the Chinese.” But he also said Bush always has attended congressional award presentation ceremonies, has met with the Dalai Lama several times before and had no reason not to meet with him again.

No media access was to be allowed to the meeting that Bush was having with the Dalai Lama later Tuesday in the private residence of the White House. The White House changed its typical policy and decided it would not release a photo of the meeting, underscoring the sensitivity of the matter. “We in no way want to stir the pot and make China feel that we are poking a stick in their eye for a country that we have a lot of relationships with on a variety of issues,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said. “And this might be one thing that we can do. But I don’t believe that that’s going to soothe the concerns in China.”

No kidding.

I’ve got mixed thoughts on this one. Unlike the recent condemnation of Turkey for genocide that took place ninety years ago, this award highlights an very real public policy dispute with the present government. China’s policies toward Taiwan, Burma, and Tibet are contrary to United States interests and we have every right as a sovereign country, not to mention the World’s Sole Remaining Superpower TM and the mythical Leader of the Free World, to stand express our views about the human rights policies of other states, especially those that have cross-border implications.

At the same time, the United States officially considers Tibet to be a part of the People’s Republic of China. That makes the Dalai Lama and the Tibet independence movement a matter of Chinese domestic politics. Continuing to try to have it both ways, mostly for reasons of American domestic politics, is problematic on a variety of levels.

China’s threats here are largely hollow, in that cooperation on a whole host of issues, from trade to regional security, benefits the PRC at least as much as the United States. Still, giving their top dissident our highest award pokes them in the eye without actually achieving any benefit in return. If we’re serious about supporting an independent Tibet (or, for that matter, an independent Taiwan) we should make that our official policy and take prudent steps in that direction. Otherwise, we should avoid inflaming the situation with hollow gestures.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    Perhaps we can let China give Michael Moore a “Peoples red star worker’s medal” as a tit for tat.

  2. Anderson says:

    Again, it seems, we’re told that America should moderate its beliefs (as expressed by its elected representatives) to avoid annoying genocide-deniers and tyrants in general.

    If these gestures are so empty, what right do Turkey and China have to be inflamed by them?

    America must truly be in decline if we have to keep our thoughts to ourselves.

  3. Triumph says:

    If this is the “Congressional” medal of freedom, why isn’t a member of Congress on them. Putting the recipeint’s image on the medal doesn’t make sense. The Llama is going to have the damn medal; he certainly knows what he looks like.

    Rather, they should put an image of the head of the Senate–Cheney–and the head of the House–Pelosi–on the medal.

    Dolly will love it!