The Dalai Lama will join U.S. President Barack Obama for the 2015 National Day of Prayer Breakfast on February 5, a move experts fear will anger the Chinese government, who considers the Tibetan leader a dissident.
This year, the President will discuss the importance of religious freedom at the annual Christian event, which is held at the Washington Hilton. The Dalai Lama, a controversial Buddhist leader who has fought for Tibet's independence from China since the 1950's, is also expected to attend, according to a press aide for Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, who is co-chair of the event.
"The President is a strong supporter of the Dalai Lama's teachings and preserving Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions," National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said according to TIME Magazine. " As he has done in the past, the President will see many religious leaders at the event, but we don't have any specific meeting with the Dalai Lama to announce."
The National Day of Prayer breakfast will be Obama and the Dalai Lama's first public appearance together. Although the two have met in private three times, most recently in February of 2014, the White House has barred media from these meetings in an attempt to minimize publicity out of respect for the Chinese government.
According to Reuters, Beijing calls the Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959, a "wolf in sheep's clothing" who seeks to use violent methods to establish an independent Tibet.
Following the meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui summoned a U.S. diplomat to register his nation's objections. "The Tibetan issue is the domestic affair of China, and the United States bears no right to interfere," he said, according to the Xinhua news agency. "Such a move will gravely sabotage China-US co-operation and relations, and will definitely undermine its own interests."
The annual event is organized by the Fellowship Foundation, a conservative Christian group, and hosted by the United States Congress. In addition to addressing the need for religious freedom, this year's breakfast will focus on the Armenian Genocide of 1915, in which the Ottoman Empire nearly wiped out the region's entire Christian population.
"Christians were rounded up and locked inside churches that were set on fire and burned alive or thrown into caves with sulfur thrown on top of them and cremated in primitive gas chambers," Christopher Atamian of the Huffington Post wrote of the event. "The Turks, aided and abetted by their ally, the German Kaiser, seized Christian properties and bank accounts, raped and enslaved women and children and forced thousands to convert to Islam under pain of death."
The National Prayer Breakfast will be aired Feb. 5 on C-SPAN.