Beijing condemns meeting as pretext for 'separatist' activity

The Dalai Lama has met U.S. President George W. Bush in the White House, amid strong complaints from China that the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader is using the United States as a base from which to carry out "separatist" activities.

After the closed meeting, the Dalai Lama told reporters that Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell had shown "interest and genuine sympathy" for Tibet.

"They will help us," he said, adding that he had mentioned his concerns to the President over U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"My main concern is the preservation of Tibetan culture," he said, referring to the official encouragement of migration by ethnic Han Chinese into Tibet as a method of social control.

The visit came as Sino-U.S. relations--according to Powell--reached their warmest point in 30 years, largely the result of China's support for the war on terror and its continuing economic reform program.

But China has lodged an official protest at the visit, saying that the Dalai Lama is a political as well as a religious figure, who has engaged in activities aimed at splitting China and destroying national unity for a long time.

"China has lodged representations with the United States on the Dalai Lama's U.S. visit and its leaders' meeting with him," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a regular news briefing.

Beijing had also called for the U.S. side to keep its promise that it acknowledges Tibet as part of China and doesn't support the "independence of Tibet," Kong said.

"The Chinese side urges the U.S. side to stop using the Tibet issue to interfere with China's internal affairs so as to not harm China-U.S. relations," he said.

The Dalai Lama's envoys have visited China twice in the past year, sparking hopes of a political solution which would enable the banished leader to return to his homeland, where he is widely revered.

The United States and the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile since 1959, say they do not favor Tibetan independence but greater autonomy for the Tibetan people.

The Dalai Lama said he had "briefly mentioned" his concerns to Bush that the United States might lose sight of post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan, although he saw the U.S.-led war there as "perhaps some kind of liberation." But he was less positive about the war in Iraq, where he said the situation was "more complicated."

During his three-week trip, the Dalai Lama is also scheduled to take part in a ceremony at the National Cathedral in the U.S. capital commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington.

The U.S. Senate approved a resolution recognizing the Dalai Lama's efforts to resolve the Tibet issue peacefully.

Chinese troops "liberated" Tibet in 1951. The Dalai Lama fled the region after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.


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