The Bush administration’s foreign policy is a mess, given its preference for war and bluster for dealing with adversaries in the Middle East.
But the administration has pursued a reasonable policy toward China, still at least a nominally communist regime that has mixed authoritarian political rule with relatively free markets.
The president has engaged China through open trade, but has not been reluctant to highlight its many human-rights abuses.
It’s in that context that we appreciate the willingness of the administration and Congress to honor the Dalai Lama, the 72-year-old Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner who has set up an exiled government in Dharmsala, India. China views him as a dangerous advocate for Tibetan separatism.
Last Wednesday, the Dalai Lama visited Washington, D.C., where he accepted the Congressional Gold Medal.
President Bush called him “a universal symbol of peace and tolerance, a shepherd of the faithful and a keeper of the flame for his people.”
The honor highlights international frustration at China’s harsh rule over Tibet, which it invaded in 1951.
Chinese officials acted angrily. “The move of the United States is a blatant interference with China’s internal affairs, which has severely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and gravely undermined the relations between China and the United States,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao.
Well, actually, the United States is free to meet with and honor any person it chooses on its own soil, regardless of what China’s authoritarian leaders might say, just as China is free to honor anyone it chooses, regardless of the protests of the American government.
China will boycott a trade meeting or two with the United States to protest the action, but it won’t do anything that will jeopardize relations with its largest trading partner.
China and the United States have many common diplomatic goals, as well. So, in this case, it’s the Chinese that are engaging in pointless bluster.
The Dalai Lama thanked the president for his stand for religious freedom, arguing, according to The Associated Press, that the award would bring “tremendous joy and encouragement to the Tibetan people.” If that’s true, then the U.S. action was wholly worthwhile.