BEIJING – China said Tuesday that a decision by the U.S. Congress to honor the Dalai Lama would "seriously" damage relations between the countries.
The Congress will give the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, an award this week at a ceremony attended by U.S. President George W. Bush.
"The move will seriously damage China-U.S. relations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said
He told a regular news conference that China hoped the United States would "correct its mistakes and cancel relevant arrangements and stop interfering in the internal affairs of China by any means."
Bush and the Dalai Lama were scheduled to meet later Tuesday at the White House. On Wednesday, a public ceremony will be held to award the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal.
The Dalai Lama has been based in India since fleeing his Himalayan homeland in 1959 amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He remains immensely popular among Tibetans, despite persistent efforts to demonize him by Beijing, which claims he is seeking to destroy China's sovereignty by pushing for independence for Tibet.
The Dalai Lama insists he wants "real autonomy," not independence for the region, which the mainland claims has been its territory for centuries.
Liu also refused to say if China had pulled out of a planned international strategy session on Iran sought by the U.S. to protest the award.
He said there were "technical reasons" why China would not be attending Iran meeting.
A State Department official said Monday that China objected to participating in the meeting on the same day the Dalai Lama is to receive Congress' civilian honor.
China is one of six nations that have offered Iran a deal to shutter disputed nuclear activities, and Wednesday's meeting in Berlin was part of the U.S.-led drive to punish Iran for spurning the offer.
The six-nation diplomatic meeting is still expected to take place, perhaps a week later, said the U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Foreign leaders have grown increasingly willing to risk Beijing's wrath to underscore concerns for human rights in Tibet, which China has ruled with a heavy hand since communist forces invaded in 1951.
Last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met the Dalai Lama, a move which also drew harsh criticism from China. Last year, Canada's granting of honorary citizenship to the Dalai Lama raised a similar protest.
Liu's reaction was the harshest of recent Chinese comments about the award.
Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party secretary of Tibet, criticized the exiled spiritual leader as a politician who "has tried to split the motherland."
"This is brutal interference in China's internal affairs," Zhang said at a meeting along the sidelines of the party's 17th congress. "We express our firm opposition and grave objection. ... We feel very angry about this."