BEIJING China said on Wednesday it had complained to the United States after a U.S. Congressional delegation visited exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at his headquarters in India this week.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi flew with a bipartisan delegation to the Himalayan hill town where the 81-year-old Buddhist leader is based, seeking to draw world attention to human rights in Tibet as President Donald Trump eyes warmer ties with China.
The meeting was always likely to upset China, which regards the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist. He says he simply seeks genuine autonomy for Tibet.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the Dalai Lama is a political exile who uses the cloak of religion to engage in anti-China separatist activities.
"The visit by the relevant delegates of the U.S. Congress to meet the Dalai Lama sent a very wrong signal to the world about Tibet independence and goes against the United States' promises on Tibet. China firmly opposes this and has lodged solemn representations with the U.S.," Geng told a daily news briefing.
"We urge relevant congresspeople in the U.S. to carefully handle the Tibet issue, stop all communications with the Dalai Lama and take immediate measures to deal with the negative impact of the visit."
The U.S. lawmakers' visit comes at a awkward time for Trump. Campaigning for election, he had cast China as a trade adversary and currency manipulator, but he now wants President Xi Jinping's support to restrain nuclear-armed North Korea.
After Trump's election last November, the Dalai Lama said he was keen to meet the incoming U.S. leader. It now looks unlikely the Nobel peace laureate will get a White House invite - an honour accorded by recent American presidents - anytime soon.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week played down the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, raising fears the Dalai Lama could lose one of his last friends in the West.
China took control of Tibet in 1950 in what it calls a "peaceful liberation" and has piled pressure on foreign governments to shun the Dalai Lama.
Most recently, Beijing denounced New Delhi for hosting the Dalai Lama when he travelled to India's northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh - territory it claims as Southern Tibet - to give spiritual teachings to his followers.
China strongly denies accusations of rights abuses in Tibet, saying its rule has brought prosperity to what was a remote and backward region, and that it fully respects the religious and cultural rights of the Tibetan people.
(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Writing by Ben Blanchard)