China is going on the offensive over President Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama. While the meeting likely amounted to little more than idle chatter, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has warned that any meeting with the Dalai Lama would be interfering with China’s internal affairs and that there will be serious consequences for any country that does so.

Dalai Lama China

China has stated that meeting with the Dalai Lama will damage bilateral relations. Exactly what that could mean remains unknown as the Chinese have not offered details or elaborated on the matter. The United States, however, will almost certainly not back down from any challenge. If anything, China’s strong words will only embolden the United States.

Dalai Lama becoming center of power play?

Obama and the Dalai Lama have met on two other occasions, once in 2011 and once in 2010. The Chinese denounced both of these previous meetings, but little came about besides strong words. The meeting took place Friday morning at the White House.

The President is unlikely to take any action over Tibet. As the Chinese point out, they consider it an internal affair, and so far both the United States and China have been looking to avoid any direct confrontations over serious issues. Still, Tibet is a sensitive issue for both countries.

China views the Dalai Lama as a separatist leader and strongly rejects any claim he might have to ruling over Tibet. China first invaded Tibet in 1950, quickly overwhelming the country’s almost non-existent army. Initially, the Dalai Lama was allowed to remain in the country, but after a failed uprising in 1959, he was forced into exile.

Tibet offers U.S. chance to improve image

For the United States, Tibet is a hot-button issue that garners a lot of international attention. China has been accused numerous times of committing human rights violations in the country, and there is a considerably large international movement pressuring China over the issue.

Tibet offers the United States a chance to differentiate itself from China and to build its image as a promoter of liberty and human rights. By promoting human rights in Tibet, the United States can bolster its own reputation while damaging China’s.

In a world where the United States is losing economic power and other countries are slowly catching up in terms of military might, reputation and image is becoming all the more important. Going forward, the United States may have to rely more on American values and ideals, rather than military might and economic power.