[BEIJING] US President Barack Obama will meet the Dalai Lama at the White House on Wednesday, a move condemned by China which portrays the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader as a dangerous separatist.
Mr Obama has met the Dalai Lama several times before and calls the monk "a good friend," but the pair will - as usual - talk behind closed doors in an effort to avoid Beijing's ire.
China, which accuses the Nobel peace laureate of using "spiritual terrorism" to seek independence for Tibet, expressed displeasure over the visit to the United States.
"Under the cloak of religion, the 14th Dalai Lama peddles his political ambitions of dividing China all around the world," foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters Tuesday.
"We demand all countries and governments not to grant him the space or soil for his activities," he added.
The spiritual leader - who has lived in exile in India since a failed 1959 uprising - has for decades called for more Tibetan autonomy rather than independence.
Beijing maintains he is a "wolf in monk's clothing" and vigorously lobbies - often successfully - against foreign leaders meeting him.
Mr Obama made a high-profile public appearance with the Dalai Lama, who is widely revered by Tibetans, last year at a prayer breakfast in Washington, calling him "a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion."
But three prior meetings were held privately, and Mr Obama was criticised in 2010 for obliging the 80-year-old, clad in his characteristic red robes and flip flops, to leave the White House through a back door and walk past piles of snow and bags of rubbish.
Mr Obama's schedule indicated the Wednesday meeting would be held away from the cameras in the White House Map Room, not the Oval Office.
Tibetans "feel happy about His Holiness meeting the president," said Sonam Dagpo of the Tibetan government-in-exile, adding they hoped the US would support "the struggle of Tibetans."
China has ruled Tibet since the 1950s, but many Tibetans say Beijing represses their Buddhist religion and culture - charges China denies.
More than 130 ethnic Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 in protest at Beijing's rule, campaign groups and overseas media have said. Most of them have died.
The Dalai Lama has described the protests as acts of desperation that he is powerless to stop.
Many observers believe China is confident that the Tibetan movement will lose much of its potency and global appeal when the charismatic Dalai Lama dies.
The Dalai Lama has also increasingly spoken of succession and has not ruled out picking his reincarnation before his death, fearing that China would instead pick its own boy whom it would use to advance its agenda.
His stance has led Chinese communist rulers, who are officially atheist, to insist that the Dalai Lama can only reincarnate after his death.