WASHINGTON, October 10, 2007 (AFP) — US President George W. Bush willrisk angering China by attending a ceremony next week to award aCongress medal to the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, at thebastion of American democracy.
Barely a month after China strongly protested German Chancellor AngelaMerkel's meeting with the Dalai Lama, the White House said Wednesdaythat Bush and his wife will participate in the special landmark eventfor the 72-year-old Buddhist spiritual leader at the Capitol buildingnext Wednesday.
"The president and Mrs Laura Bush will attend the ceremony," nationalsecurity council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told AFP.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will award the Congressional Gold Medal, thehighest civilian honor the legislature can bestow, to the Dalai Lama,her office said.
A bill to award the medal won the support of more than two thirds ofmembers of both the Senate and House of Representatives last year beforeit was signed into law by Bush.
The award was in recognition of the Buddhist spiritual leader's advocacyof religious harmony, non-violence, and human rights and his efforts tofind a peaceful solution to the Tibet issue through dialogue with theChinese leadership, according to lawmakers.
The medal has also been given to such diverse individuals as Sir WinstonChurchill, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.
This will be the first time that a sitting US president will appear withthe Dalai Lama in a public event, a move that could anger China,diplomats said.
China reacted angrily when the US Congress announced the award last year.
The award "has sent very serious, wrong signals to the Tibetanindependence forces, seriously interfered into China's internal affairsand damaged China-US relations," Beijing said then.
The ceremony in Washington comes just after Merkel's September 23meeting with the Dalai Lama despite harsh warnings from Beijing, whichwarned Germany after the talks that bilateral ties had been damaged.
Merkel also gave support to the Dalai Lama's quest for greater culturalautonomy for his homeland.
Aside from Merkel, the Dalai Lama also met Austrian Chancellor AlfredGusenbauer last month and was received by Australian Prime Minister JohnHoward in June. He is scheduled to meet Canadian Prime Minister StephenHarper this month.
"We are seeing a trend in which world leaders are becoming more awarethat it is in their interest to meet the Dalai Lama despite China'sobjections because he is after all one of the world's leaders," saidKate Saunders, spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Tibet.
Following the ceremony, the Congress has agreed to allow Dalai Lama toaddress a large crowd of well wishers on the West Lawn of the Capitol.
Bush, known for his religious convictions, has been frank with China onhuman rights, particularly religious freedom, and strongly supports theidea of a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Beijing.
He had met the Dalai Lama several times at the White House residencerather than the offices, apparently to avoid the full wrath of China.
China has ruled Tibet since sending troops in to "liberate" theHimalayan region in 1950.
The Dalai Lama fled to India following a failed uprising in 1959 afterBeijing crushed an anti-Chinese uprising in Lhasa.
The Tibetan leader lives in the northern hill town of Dharamsala, whichis also the seat of his government in exile.
Beijing considers the Dalai Lama a political exile bent on establishingan independent Tibet, an accusation the 1989 Nobel Peace price winnerhas repeatedly denied.
He instead says he only wants greater autonomy and respect for Tibetanculture and religion