China is demanding that its northern neighbor, Mongolia, scrap a visit by the Dalai Lama, labeling the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader a separatist who seeks to alienate Chinese-controlled Tibet from Beijing.

The 81-year-old monk is to start a four-day visit to predominantly Buddhist Mongolia on Friday evening. His visit is being described by his hosts as purely religious in nature and no meetings with officials are planned.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing Friday that China firmly opposes visits by the Dalai Lama to any foreign country. Geng said Mongolia should cancel the visit for what he called "the purpose of maintaining the general picture of the sound and steady development of bilateral ties."

Mongolia's herding and resource-centered economy is heavily dependent on China.