BEIJING (Reuters) -- China has accused U.S. President Barack Obama of "seriously damaging" ties between the two powers by meeting the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled leader.
Obama held a low-key meeting in the White House on February 18 with the Dalai Lama in the face of wider tensions with Beijing over U.S. weapons sales Taiwan, China's currency policies, trade disputes, and Internet censorship.
"The U.S. act amounted to serious interference in Chinese domestic affairs, and has seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and seriously damaged China-U.S. relations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement on the ministry website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
The United States should "immediately take effective steps to eradicate the malign effects" of the meeting, said Ma.
Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankui "lodged solemn representations" with U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Chinese Communist troops marched into Tibet in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and has since campaigned for self-rule from exile.
Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of fomenting unrest and seeking to split Tibet from China. The Dalai Lama says he is merely seeking greater autonomy.
Beijing did not threaten retaliation, and its angry words echoed many past statements about the Dalai Lama meetings with foreign political leaders.
But the dispute could complicate Obama's efforts to secure China's help on key issues such as imposing tougher sanctions on Iran and forging a new global accord on climate change.
In the predominantly Tibetan region of Tongren in northwest China's Qinghai province, monks expressed their support for the Obama meeting, saying they celebrated the event with a large firework display.
"This is great news for the Tibetans," said Jokhar, a local monk. "We don't care that it makes the government angry. It makes us very happy that Obama met him."
Tsering, a Tibetan celebrating the lunar new year, smiled when he heard the meeting was about to take place. "It lets us know we have not been forgotten," he said.
Obama encouraged China and the Dalai Lama's envoys to keep up efforts to resolve their differences through negotiations, despite recent talks having yielded little progress.