Beijing Fumes As Obama Calls Visiting Dalai Lama A 'Good Friend'

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)The Dalai Lama shakes hands with Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama, at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, on Feb. 5, 2015.

U.S. President Barack Obama called the visiting Dalai Lama a "good friend" during their first public encounter in Washington last week, a move that infuriated Beijing which described the American president as "playing with fire."

At the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Obama offered praise to the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel peace laureate who is considered by China as a separatist, The Guardian reported.

"I want to offer a special welcome to a good friend," the President said.

Obama said the Dalai Lama is "a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion."

The President nodded and smiled at the Dalai Lama, after doing a bow-like gesture towards the spiritual leader who was seated at a table in the front row across from the President.

Chinese state media criticized Washington's welcoming of the Dalai Lama, saying the move "is a political liability which backfires."

"Chumming with a secessionist is playing with fire, which severely harms the mutual trust between China and the United States, and downgrades Obama's credit as a national leader for breaking his commitments to China on the Tibet issue," the state media Xinhua said in a commentary just before the meeting. "What lies under their hypocritical relationship is nothing but political deals and cold calculations," Xinhua said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing is "against foreign countries interfering in China's domestic affairs under the pretext of Tibet-related issues."

"The Dalai Lama is seeking support from foreign countries to realize his political end, but he cannot succeed," Hong added, describing the spiritual leader as "a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the pretext of religion."

South Africa, one of the countries that depend on China for investment, has declined the Dalai Lama's request to visit the country thrice, including one to attend a summit of Nobel peace laureates.

Obama's accolade to the Dalai Lama was only a brief part of his 25-minute speech to his audience of 3,000, with the President talking mostly about the "perils of spiritual certainty."

Obama called on the world's church leaders to have more "humility and doubt" and not be "so full of yourself that you are right and God speaks only to you."

"We should assume humbly that we don't always know what we are doing," he said. "As people of faith we are summoned to push back at those who seek to distort religion for nihilistic ends."

The President received "polite, if somewhat muted applause" when he talked about how professions of faith were often used as a weapon and "twisted in the name of evil."

"From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence from those who profess to stand up for faith and in the name of religion," said Obama.

He also emphasized the Islamic State's "horrific acts of barbarism in the name of religion" and the "rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of faith."

He clarified, however, that the problem is "not unique to one group of religion."

"There is sinful tendency in [all of] us, that can distort our faith," he added. "Particularly in those of us who profess to believe."

"No God condones terror, no grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number," Obama said.

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