The emphasis, I think, should not be on the fact that President Obama and the Dalai Lama did not meet the first time around, but on the situation surrounding their upcoming meeting in less than a week. An historical analysis presents reasons to conclude that; (a) their interaction is representative of a necessary, established tradition of protecting human rights, and (b) this meeting comes at an pressing time in US foreign relations.
Throughout the past two decades, American Presidents have welcomed the Dalai Lama as a champion of human rights, and as an advocate for the defense thereof. Each time a meeting has been held with both parties, representatives of the Chinese Government have issued statements of disapproval and warnings of forthcoming strains in relationship. In terms of international relations, the US does, in fact, understand Tibet as part of China, but recognizes the struggle to establish the full granting and practice of human rights.
After meeting with President H.W. Bush in April 1991, President Clinton heard arguments from Tibetan delegates that China was undertaking "population transfer into Tibet of alarming proportions" intended to reduce the Tibetans to a minority in their own region. This time, President Obama, I think, will receive a similar message from China that his predecessor, President W. Bush did in 2007: "China's display of anger [will be] demonstrated by its [non-support of sanctions] on Iran's nuclear program." A 2008 meeting between the Dalai Lama and President Sarkozy resulted in the same behavior: China cancelled a summit with the European Union.
We must consider also, in light of the upcoming meeting, whether the Dalai Lama's Nine Rounds of Dialogue with Chinese leadership, who oppose his pursuit for autonomy in the Tibetan homeland, has either added fuel to the fire or stabilized disagreement of and/or anger at the US-Tibet relationship. Recent reports give overwhelming reason to think his efforts have only resulted in the former. In addition to China's dissatisfaction with the ninth round, the selling of US weapons to Taiwan, who is also viewed by China as a part of its political territory, has set a stage for further confrontation in the coming months.
So it seems that, yes, feelings of anger and actions of ignoring the US are bound to happen again as they have done historically. But, the current situation is strikingly different than before when considering the two most important diplomatic relations at stake between the US and China; one, economic prosperity - in particular trade - and two, military defense - in particular nuclear warfare.
"...the United States was in a much stronger position vis-a-vis China in the 1990s. Beijing was fearful of losing its most-favored-nation trading status and desirous of American support for it to join the World Trade Organization. Now, Beijing is Washington's biggest creditor and the United States wants China to continue to lend it money by buying Treasury bonds."
In comparison, Chinese Gross Domestic Product has expanded 10.7 percent over the last four quarters, while United States Gross Domestic Product has expanded .10 percent over the same time period. The growth is attributed, in many ways, to China's ability to export, which gives indications of strong domestic market trends. As we are well aware, the US ability to grow over time will be strained by the onslaught of debt (i.e. monies from China), although the dollar will gain advantage over the euro the undergoing economic struggle of Greece and concern in general for the PIGS - Portugal, Ireland, Spain, and Greece. Both factors will certainly add to China's arm-twisting; although, improvements seem to be forthcoming .
*For further explaination of how China has succeeded in expanding its growth, see the section titled, "Another Look at China's Success Story," in Jeffrey Sach and Wing Thye Woo's report published by the World Bank Group, entitled, China's Transition Experience, Reexamined).
Both China and Iran will be watching President Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama, and walking the line of good relations with China is connected also to forthcoming dealings with Iran, especially when considering the US role as a broker in the Arab-Israeli peace process. As stated in the Joint Experts' Statement on Iran (November 2008);
"Any U.S. moves towards mediating the Arab-Israeli crisis in a balanced way would ease tensions in the region, and would be positively received as a step forward for peace. As a practical matter, however, experience has shown that any long-term solution to Israel’s problems with the Palestinians and Lebanon
probably will require dealing, directly or indirectly, with Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran supports these organizations, and thus has influence with them."
This statement, I think, shows how far-reaching dealings with China can be when considering the connections to national defense, incorporating both Iran and nuclear warfare and terrorist networks. (I do not think it is an overstatement; rather, I think it shows the effects of systems-oriented globalization - where one region is affected by other regions while simultaneously affecting another - and increasing alterations in the Middle East region, especially the strings that are attached).