The lead-up to the Dalia Lama's meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House last week received a great deal of attention from the press, and there was also a considerable amount of after-the-fact assessment of the event. In order to place what happened into a broad historical perspective, I put a few questions to A. Tom Grunfeld, who is a past contributor to "China Beat" and the author of The Making of Modern Tibet. Here are the results of our interview via e-mail, and if you live in New York and want to hear him talk about the subject live, he'll be giving a couple of lectures on related issues in early April through a program sponsored by that state's Council for the Humanities.
Jeffrey Wasserstrom: What did you think of the media coverage of the Dalai Lama's meeting with President Obama and the general tenor of commentary on the event?
A. Tom Grunfeld: It's not very good in that it is largely uninformed. General news reporters, or those with White House beats, cannot be expected to know much about Sino-Tibetan history or the nuances of the current state of affairs between the Dalai Lama and Beijing. But, of course, they could take some time and consult someone who has this knowledge.
I suspect that for the US media the Dalai Lama is more of a symbol than anyone of real importance. He has become a cultural icon rather than a political player. This is understandable when we keep in mind that apart from the moral issues of human rights Tibet is not very important to the US politically, strategically, economically or militarily.
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