U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, the White House announced Friday, triggering strong protests from China.
The meeting scheduled for Saturday "underscores the president's strong support for the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans," a White House statement said.
The talks between the two Nobel laureates will be held in the White House residence's Map Room—not the Oval Office where the president welcomes heads of state—and will be closed to the press.
Obama last met the Dalai Lama at the same venue in February 2010, which also infuriated Beijing.
Saturday's meeting will take place as the Dalai Lama wraps up a nearly two-week visit to Washington.
"The president will highlight his enduring support for dialogue between the Dalai Lama's representatives and the Chinese government to resolve differences," the White House statement said.
The Dalai Lama's envoys have held nine rounds of talks with Beijing on the prospects for greater autonomy for Tibet, but there has been no headway.
China reacted angrily at the scheduled meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama, calling it an interference in its internal affairs.
"The issue regarding Tibet concerns China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we firmly oppose any foreign official to meet with the Dalai Lama in any form," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese embassy in the United States have lodged "solemn representation" with the United States over the issue in Beijing and Washington respectively, Hong said.
"We request the U.S. side to honor its serious commitment that recognizes Tibet as part of China and opposes 'Tibet independence,' to immediately withdraw the decision of arranging [the] Obama-Dalai Lama meeting, and to avoid interfering in China's internal affairs and damaging China-U.S. relations," the spokesman said.
China accuses the Dalai Lama of being a separatist, a charge denied by the 76-year-old spritual leader. He says he is only seeking "genuine" autonomy for the Himalayan territory that Beijing has ruled since 1950.
Last week, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, and top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi met the Dalai Lama, raising concerns in Beijing.
The International Campaign for Tibet, which works closely with the Dalai Lama, said the White House acknowledged the importance of direct talks between the two leaders and the strong voices in Congress in support of the meeting.
The talks come as Tibetans across Tibet "are suffering the effects of a pervasive security crackdown in response to demonstrations for the return of the Dalai Lama and an end to repressive measures that suppress the free expression of their Tibetan identity," the ICT said in a statement.
The Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese occupation, has been the face and symbol of the Tibetan freedom struggle for more than five decades.
He retired as political leader of the exile government in March as part of a process to transfer political power to an elected leader.
Reported by Parameswaran Ponnudurai