The Dalai Lama has preached to thousands of supporters in Mongolia, on a visit set to test the country's ties with China, its powerful neighbor.

It was the first appearance in five years in the heavily Buddhist country for the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, who Beijing has condemned as a separatist. Saturday's visit comes as Mongolian leaders are seeking a $4.2 billion loan from Beijing to pull it out of a deep recession.

China's Foreign Ministry strongly urged Mongolia on Friday to deny the Dalai Lama a visit for the sake of a "sound and steady" development of bilateral ties.

Mongolia Buddhism is closely tied to Tibet's strain and traditionally reveres the Dalai Lama, who made his first visit to the country in 1979.