Does China Ever Actually Punish Countries for Hosting the Dalai Lama?

How It Works
Feb. 21 2014 12:07 PM

Does China Back Up Its Dalai Lama Threats?

The world's most awkward guest.

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama is holding a meeting with the Dalai Lama at the White House today, and not surprisingly, Beijing is displeased:

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

"The U.S. leader's planned meeting with Dalai is a gross interference in China's domestic politics," said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry. "It is a severe violation of the principles of international relations. It will inflict grave damages upon the China-U.S. relationship."

The White House clearly anticipated this reaction, announcing the meeting only last night. Hopefully this year, they can avoid the unfortunate optics of 2010 (above), when the Tibetan spiritual leader was photographed coming out of a back entrance of the White House past piles of trash.


China issues a nearly identical statement of outrage every time a foreign head of state meets with the Dalai Lama, but does it ever follow through on its claims that bilateral relations will be seriously damaged? According to one analysis, it does, but not for very long.

Andreas Fuchs and Nils-Hendrik Klann of the University of Göttingen published a paper in 2010 looking at the effect of Dalai Lama meetings on bilateral trade. Looking at “exports to China from 159 partner countries between 1991 and 2008,” they did find evidence of “trade-deteriorating effect” following meetings between the Dalai Lama and heads of state. (Meetings with lower-ranking officials didn’t have any effect.)

Specifically, “exports to China are found to decrease by 8.1 percent or 16.9 percent” as a result of meetings, however, the effect disappears within two years of the meeting taking place, and primarily affects only “machinery and transport equipment.”

It’s worth noting that the analysis looked only at the Hu Jintao years. It’s not yet clear whether Xi Jinping’s government will take these gestures quite as seriously. It also seems unlikely that the U.S.-China trade relationship—one of the world’s largest—will be affected to the same extent. As Lily Kuo points out, previous meetings between the Dalai Lama and U.S. leaders don’t seem to have had much of an impact.

But the overall takeaway of the analysis is that China does indeed take these meetings very seriously, but isn’t willing to let them get in the way of doing business for very long.  

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Natasha Lyonne Is Coming to the Live Culture Gabfest. Are You?

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Honcho Says Celebs Who Keep Nude Photos in the Cloud Are “Stupid”
  News & Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
Oct. 2 2014 9:19 AM Alibaba’s Founder on Why His Company Is Killing It in China
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 2 2014 10:42 AM The Hanging Coffins of Sagada
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 10:36 AM How Bad Will Adam Sandler’s Netflix Movies Be?
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM Surge Pricing Is Not Price Gouging
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 2 2014 9:49 AM In Medicine We Trust Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?