China lashed out Tuesday at President Bush's White House meeting with the Dalai Lama, arguing that it would seriously damage relations between the two nations, and called on the United States to cancel plans to honor the famous Tibetan figure with a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor today.
"We solemnly demand that the U.S. cancel the extremely wrong arrangements," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told reporters before the meeting. "It seriously violates the norm of international relations and seriously wounded the feelings of the Chinese people and interfered with China's internal affairs."
Liu Jianchao, a foreign ministry spokesman, said Tuesday that honoring the Dalai Lama would "seriously damage China-U.S. relations," although he did not specify how. He added that the United States should "correct its mistakes and cancel relevant arrangements."
The White House dismissed China's concerns, saying the president has had private meetings with many religious leaders, including the pope.
"The president believes that people all over the world should be able to express their religion and practice their religion in freedom. And that's why the president wants to meet with him," press secretary Dana Perino said. "He believes he should be honored as a great spiritual leader."
In recognition of China's objections, however, the Bush administration did not release photographs of Tuesday's private meeting at the White House.
The Dalai Lama, after meeting privately with Bush, brushed off China's furious reaction.
"That always happens," the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet's Buddhists said with a laugh, speaking to reporters gathered outside his downtown Washington hotel.
He said that during their meeting, he explained to Bush what was happening in Tibet.
When asked if he had a message for Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Dalai Lama playfully patted a reporter on the cheek and said, "You are not a representative of Hu Jintao."
The Dalai Lama, recipient of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, has been based in India since fleeing his homeland during a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. China has condemned him as a "splittist" intent on undermining Chinese sovereignty by working for the independence of Tibet. The Dalai Lama says he is only seeking to expand autonomy, not establish a separate state.
China has sought for decades to squash any international recognition of the Dalai Lama, but the spiritual leader, who is 72, remains popular in Tibet.
The Congressional Gold Medal of Honor is Congress' highest civilian honor and is being awarded to the Dalai Lama to recognize what Congress called "his many enduring and outstanding contributions to peace, nonviolence, human rights and religious understanding."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
© 2007 The Associated Press