THE Dalai Lama was invited to the National Prayer Breakfast in the US yesterday in move likely to provoke an angry response from China.
The event at the Washington Hilton drew some 3,600 US and international leaders and criticism from China, which considers the Dalai Lama an anti-Chinese separatist because of his quest for greater Tibetan autonomy. Outside the hotel, hundreds of protesters gathered in the pre-dawn darkness waving Tibetan flags.
President Barack Obama was to sit at the head table with other speakers for the annual event, which brings together US and international leaders from different parties and faiths for one spiritual hour.
Event organisers said the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism would be in the audience of about 3,600, seated close to the dais and actor Richard Gere, a friend and follower.
The Dalai Lama spoke on Wednesday at a lunch closed to the media. But the White House down-played the prospect of any official engagement meeting between the fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners.
China protested each of Mr Obama’s three meetings with the Dalai Lama, which were always held privately without any news coverage because of the sensitivity of the encounter.
But president George W Bush ignored furious Chinese objections when he presented the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal at the Capitol Rotunda in 2007.
Last year, at the prayer breakfast, Mr Obama criticised China for failing to protect religious freedom. When meeting with Chinese leaders, he said: “I stress that realising China’s potential rests on upholding universal rights, including for Christians and Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Mr Obama plans to speak on the importance of upholding religious freedoms again this year. The message will undoubtedly be underlined by the Dalai Lama’s presence.
“The president is a strong supporter of the Dalai Lama’s teachings and preserving Tibet’s unique traditions,” Mr Ventrell said.
China warned once again that it would strongly oppose any country’s leader meeting the Dalai Lama, who fled to exile in India after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, and regard it as interference in China’s internal affairs.
But Republican Senator John Boozman, who planned to sit next to the Dalai Lama, said the spiritual leader’s attendance has nothing to do with China.
“It’s just a special time when people from the entire world come together to talk about their faith and pray together,” he said. “Especially in these troubled times, it’s a remarkable time. I sense the Dalai Lama being there says how important this has become.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah II cancelled his plans to attend the breakfast. Islamic State militants released a video this week showing a Jordanian pilot being burned to death. Organisers said a stand-in for the king would read the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan, who saved a stranger who had been beaten and left for dead. Also planning to speak was Dr Kent Brantly, who contracted Ebola while helping patients in Liberia and recovered in the US.
The Dalai Lama planned to speak yesterday at a dialogue between Buddhists and Muslims on peaceful coexistence.