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Obama Meets Chinese Leader on Valentine's Day: How About Some Love for Tibet?

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So, Obama is meeting the future Chinese leader, Xi Jinping at the White House on 14 February, Valentine's Day. It is hard to think of a more (in) appropriate day for these two men to meet. Obama, is the first black US President and Nobel Peace Prize winner who came to power on a platform of liberalist rhetoric about human rights, equality and justice. But what do we know about Xi? According to Alison Reynolds of the International Tibet Network:

We know that in Lhasa last summer - where China's Vice Presidents are sent every 10 years to mark the anniversary of China's occupation - Xi didn't put a foot out of line, vowing to "completely smash any plot to destroy stability in Tibet and jeopardize national unity". But no-one can seriously have expected him to do anything on that occasion but stick to the script. Indeed, in these sensitive months leading up to the transition of power from the 4th to the 5th generation of Communist party leaders, it would be unthinkable that any of the leadership hopefuls will rock the boat.

Even though Xi has openly criticised the cultural revolution, he embraced the Communist party; in a WikiLeaks cable an academic who knew Xi as a young man suggested he "chose to survive by becoming redder than red".

As Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian:

Some hope he [Xi] shares his father's liberal sympathies: Xi senior was not only a noted economic reformer, but an ally of reformist leader Hu Yaobang. Some say he criticised the military crackdown on Tiananmen Square's pro-democracy protests in 1989. They say that grassroots organisations burgeoned during the vice-president's stint in Zhejiang, and there was progress in the election of independent candidates at local polls. But the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network has argued the province also saw "zealous persecution" of dissidents, underground Christians and activists: "His track record does not bode well," it wrote. Other China watchers point to shattered hopes that Hu might prove politically liberal.

So when these two leaders meet, will Tibet be the white elephant in the room, or perhaps more in line with St Valentine's, the unspoken-about and abandoned mistress? The US government have stated that Tibet will be on the menu at the meeting. But like other US-China meetings, defence, economy, and trade are still the the main course and dessert, with human rights a mere after-eight mint with coffee.

Despite the Chinese government's brutal crackdown on the Tibetan region, with little or no access to journalists, tourists, heavy military presence and the cutting of mobile phone and internet connections, the Tibetans in Tibet still bravely continue to struggle for freedom, human rights and meaningful autonomy and identity. Lobsang Gyatso, a 19-year old Kirti monk, self-immolated yesterday in protest against China's oppressive rule in Tibet; making it the 23rd self-immolation to have occurred in Tibet in the past 12 months.

Protests by US Tibetan groups and supporters commenced yesterday with the unfurling of a Free Tibet banner on Arlington Bridge and protesters storming the Marriott Hotel where Xi is staying. According to reports, around 200 to 300 Tibetan protesters marched to Lafayette Park outside the White House chanting slogans such as "China lies, Tibet dies." Some carried pictures of Mr. Xi and of Tibetans who recently self-immolated.

"What we are seeing in Tibet is nothing short of an uprising," said Tenzin Dorje, who helped organize the protest on behalf of Students for a Free Tibet. He said Tibetan groups were planning further protests outside the White House on Tuesday, as well as during Mr. Xi's visits to De Moines and California.

The International Campaign for Tibet also sent a letter, signed by Hollywood actor Richard Gere, to Hillary Clinton demanding that certain actions be taken in relation to the Chinese leadership during this US visit. Yet, as well as rejecting criticism of China's record in Tibet, Mr Xi is also expected to have to defend China's close ties to Iran and recent veto with Russia of a U.N. resolution on Syria--which Secretary Clinton described as a "travesty." And let's not forget that the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Chinese dissident and human rights defender, is still languishing in a Chinese prison.

So far, Obama has been rather a let-down on the issue of human rights and China. Although he admirably did not capitulate to Chinese demands in 2010 to cancel his meeting with fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Dalai Lama in the White House, the meeting was kept low-key, closing it from news reporters and photographers. Obama's subsequent statement about Tibet was also reserved and low-key with Obama restating US policy that it does not support Tibetan independence, a goal that the Dalai Lama said he also does not seek. Obama also stressed to the Dalai Lama that he considers a cooperative relationship between the United States and China to be important.

When Obama accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, he cited the non-violent struggles of Martin Luther King and Gandhi and said that:

'We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.'

Let's hope Obama remembers these wise words and upholds humanity's noble ideals to Xi, even if he finds it very 'hard' to do so. Otherwise Obama, will come across like a cheesy, expensive Valentine's card: all lovehearts and endearing words but no real passion or commitment.