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U.S. President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Silent on Dalai Lama in Asia

5:34 PM, Nov 16, 2009 • By KELLEY CURRIE
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President Obama has responded to critics of the administration's weak human rights policies by getting tough on Asian abusers during his trip.  Sort of.  

While sitting across the table from the Burmese junta's prime minister, General Thein Sein, at the US-ASEAN Summit in Singapore, President Obama publicly and privately reiterated the pointed statements on Burma he had made earlier in the week in Tokyo.  According to NSC spokesman Ben Rhodes:

"[I]n his intervention," Obama "used exactly the same language that he used in the [Tokyo] speech. So privately he said the exact same thing that he said publicly in enumerating the steps that the government of Burma must take: freeing all political prisoners, freeing Aung San Suu Kyi, ending the violence against minority groups, and moving into a dialogue with democratic movements there."

Contrast his vigorous advocacy for Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's democrats, however, with his unwillingness to mention the name of another Asian Nobel Peace Prize winner: the Dalai Lama.  There was no mention of the Dalai Lama or the situation in Tibet in Obama's remarks in Tokyo or, so far as we know, during his time in China. Despite having been given a serious opening by the Chinese Foreign Ministry's ham-fisted moral equivalence of the American Civil War and the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Obama used a vague reference to the rights of "ethnic and religious minorities" when talking about human rights to the Communist Youth League representatives who participated his so-called town hall in Shanghai. There was no teachable moment for China's future leaders.  

While he may yet raise concerns about Tibet during his bilateral meetings in Beijing, none of us will know what he said and how his interlocutors responded.  It is good to know that Obama is willing to stand up for his fellow Nobel Peace Laureates and the suffering people they represent.  Except when he isn't.