WASHINGTON – China's leaders are outraged over President Bush meeting with the Dalai Lama Tuesday in a narrowly publicized event that Beijing says amounts to U.S. support for Tibet's demands for greater autonomy if not complete independence.
The White House refused to allow video cameras at the event and did not release still pictures of the president's meeting with the Dalai Lama, who Bush aides describe as a spiritual leader not a political one.
The Dalai Lama is the head of Tibet's Buddhists and to many a symbol of their push for the right to manage their religious and cultural affairs, education and language without Chinese interference. The Dalai Lama has lived in exile since Beijing sent troops into Tibet to put down an uprising in 1959, eight years after it first annexed Tibet.
Speaking outside his hotel room after the White House visit, the Dalai Lama shook off Chinese complaints.
"That always happens," he said with a laugh. He later added that he was pleased to see the president.
"We know each other, and we have developed, I think, a very close friendship -- something like a reunion of one family," the Dalai Lama said.
Chinese officials are unlikely to get any satisfaction from White House attempts to make the meeting a low-profile affair since Bush is expected to stand up for the first time in front of live cameras with the Dalai Lama on Wednesday to present him with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest award.
Tibet's Communist Party leader Zhang Qingli said he's "furious" at the ceremony in Washington, calling it an attempt to "split the motherland." The Chinese consider it meddling in China's internal affairs, even though the U.S. officially doesn't support an independent Tibet.
Bush and the Dalai Lama have met three times. But China's latest display of anger was demonstrated by its pulling out of a meeting this week on Iran's nuclear program.
The White House figures China will get over it, but last week the Chinese boycotted their annual human rights dialogue with German after Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the Dalai Lama.
White House officials said Tuesday that they are sensitive to the Chinese concerns and are making some concessions. They add that Bush told Chinese President Hu Jintao months ago that the meeting would take place.
"We in no way want to stir the pot and make China feel that we are poking a stick in their eye for a country that we have a lot of relationships with on a variety of issues," said press secretary Dana Perino, adding that they deliberately didn't make a formal statement about the event.
"This might be one thing that we can do. But I don't believe that that's going to soothe the concerns in China."
FOX News' Wendell Goler contributed to this report.