China has complained to the Canadian government about its decision to bestow honorary citizenship on the Dalai Lama, saying the gesture could harm relations.

Zang Weidong, minister-counselor at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, said China has relayed its disapproval to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and its demand that Canada continues to recognize Tibet as a part of China.

"We said that Dalai Lama is a separatist, so I don't think he should be honored with that and that will harm the Canadian image and also harm the relationship between China and Canada," Zang said told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday.

Parliament adopted a motion on June 22 conferring the honorary status on the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. The honor has been awarded only twice before, to South African leader Nelson Mandela and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved Jews from extermination during World War II.

The Dalai Lama won a Nobel peace prize for his lifelong struggle for Tibetan autonomy and his pursuit of peace. He fled into exile in northern India in 1959, following a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and is still widely revered in Tibet.

Amnesty International says freedom of religion and expression continue to be severely restricted in Tibet, with numerous arbitrary arrests and unfair trials.

Zang hinted that Parliament's decision could bring economic repercussions. China is Canada's second-largest trading partner.

"We have 1.3 billion population and we are developing and the future for China is bright and China has a big market and we hope we can cooperate with all the countries in the world," Zang said. "But if some problems or troubles always appear or emerge in the bilateral relationship, certainly the other relationships certainly will be hurt."

Asked if China was leveling a threat, Zang smiled and said: "I don't think it's a threat. I'm just trying to make things clearer."

Foreign Affairs says Canada recognizes the Peoples Republic of China as the legitimate government of China and Tibet, but has great respect for the Dalai Lama, who has indicated that he would visit Canada in September.

"Canada does not recognize the Tibet government in exile, but Canada considers the Dalai Lama to be an important and widely supported spiritual leader," said spokeswoman Kim Girtel.