By Derek Hawkins, The Washington Post
Every president since George H.W. Bush has met with the Dalai Lama several times during their time in the White House.
The encounters tend to be warm, friendly and laden with praise for the Dalai Lama’s attempts at dialogue with the Chinese government, which has long accused the holy man of seeking to sever Tibet from China.
Whether Trump will carry on that tradition remains to be seen. But the Dalai Lama said he plans on visiting Trump some time after his Jan. 20 inauguration.
Long reticent about Donald Trump, the Dalai Lama made his most revealing remarks yet about the president-elect, saying he has “no worries” about Trump occupying the Oval Office. During a four-day visit to Mongolia, he told reporters he was not concerned about statements Trump made on the campaign trail and expected him to be more restrained in office, The Associated Press reported.
“I feel during the election, the candidate has more freedom to express. Now once they are elected, having the responsibility, then they have to carry their cooperation, their work, according to reality,” the Dalai Lama said. “So I have no worries.”
The Dalai Lama’s trips to the United States always draw intense, often hyperbolic criticism from Chinese officials, who have called the religious leader a “devil” and at various points have threatened that his visits would “seriously damage” U.S.-China relations. The Chinese government made similar statements about his trip to Mongolia last week, demanding that its northern neighbor bar him from entering and accusing him of engaging in “splitting China activities.”
The Dalai Lama has said he has not publicly advocated Tibetan independence since the mid-1970s, arguing instead that the Chinese government grant the predominantly Buddhist region greater autonomy, cultural protections and religious freedom.
The White House, never failing to call China’s bluff, has long welcomed the Dalai Lama with open arms.
The 81-year-old monk has lived in exile in India since fleeing Tibet during a failed uprising against the Chinese government in 1959.
More than four decades later, George H.W. Bush became the first U.S. president to meet the Dalai Lama, speaking with him privately for about an hour in 1991, two years after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to liberate Tibet, according to the International Campaign for Tibet, which tracks his visits with heads of state.
President Bill Clinton met with the Dalai Lama on four occasions between 1993 and 2000, discussing U.S.-China relations and allegations of human rights abuses in Tibet.
The Dalai Lama made four trips to President George W. Bush’s White House, meeting with the president in the residential wing – a move meant to suggest he was there as a spiritual leader, rather than a political figure. In their final official meeting in 2007, Bush awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’s highest civilian honor.
“American cannot look to the plight of the religiously oppressed and close our eyes or turn away,” Bush said at the time. “And that is why I will continue to urge the leaders of China to welcome the Dalai Lama to China. They will find this good man to be a man of peace and reconciliation.”
President Barack Obama has also met with the Dalai Lama on four occasions, most recently in June, when they reportedly discussed “Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions and the equal protection of human rights of Tibetans in China.” Like others, the meeting drew a strong rebuke from Chinese officials, who said the Dalai Lama was “not a pure religious figure” and was engaged in “anti-China separatist plots under the cloak of religion.”
The Dalai Lama has carried on a chummy relationship with George W. Bush since he left office. In 2012, he told CNN that, along with Nelson Mandela, he admired the 43rd president.
“I love President Bush,” he said in the interview.
“Really?” he was asked.
“Yes, really,” he replied. “As a human being. Not as a president of America. Sometimes his policy may not be very, very successful. But as a person, as a human being, very nice person. I love him.”
Last year, when the Dalai Lama visited the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, the former president gave him a portrait he had painted of him.
“Right eye could use a little work,” he reportedly joked.
He has also expressed admiration for Obama, telling Larry King in an interview last year that he thought the 44th president looked like a “dignified monk” and saying, “I love him.”