China on Friday bitterly condemned US President Barack Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama as a "gross violation" of international relations and summoned the American ambassador in Beijing to protest.
Obama held a low-key meeting in the White House on Thursday with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled leader, in the face of wider tensions with Beijing over U.S. weapons sales Taiwan, China's currency policies, trade disputes and Internet censorship.
Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai summoned U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman to lodge a "solemn representation" over Thursday's meeting at the White House, which Beijing called an interference in Chinese domestic affairs.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu issued a statement just hours after the encounter, expressing "strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition" to the meeting.
"The US act grossly violated basic norms of international relations and the principles" set out in joint statements under which the United States pledged to respect Chinese sovereignty, Ma said.
The meeting was seen as another test of rocky ties between Beijing and Washington, strained in recent weeks by issues ranging from Taiwan arms sales to cyber-spying allegations.
But Beijing's statement about the meeting echoed many previous statements about the Dalai Lama's encounters with foreign political leaders, including then U.S. President George W. Bush -- suggesting that China's leaders will confine their reaction to angry words.
The White House gave the Dalai Lama relatively low-profile treatment, staging the meeting in the Map Room, a less prominent venue than the Oval Office.
"The U.S. act amounted to serious interference in Chinese domestic affairs, and has seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and seriously damaged China-U.S. relations," Zhaoxu said in a statement on the ministry website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
The United States should "immediately take effective steps to eradicate the malign effects" of the meeting, said Ma.
"Use concrete actions to promote the healthy and stable development of Sino-U.S. relations," he said.
"This certainly isn't the first meeting between a U.S. president and the Dalai Lama, and so both sides knew what was coming and China's response reflected that," said Jin Canrong, an expert on China-U.S. ties at Renmin University in Beijing.
"But I think it's too early to say tensions have passed. There's still the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and there are also disputes over trade and the currency that could escalate."
The White House later put out a picture of the two conversing in the 45-minute meeting and issued a statement in the name of spokesman Robert Gibbs backing the Dalai Lama's goals.
The White House said Obama "commended the Dalai Lama's ... commitment to nonviolence and his pursuit of dialogue with the Chinese government."
Obama encouraged China and the Dalai Lama's envoys to keep up efforts to resolve their differences through negotiations, despite recent talks having yielded little progress.
The White House said Obama and the Dalai Lama also "agreed on the importance of a positive and cooperative relationship between the United States and China."
Speaking later to reporters at his hotel, the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland in 1959, insisted, "We are fully committed to remain in the People's Republic of China." But he reiterated his longstanding call for "meaningful autonomy."
The United States says it accepts Tibet is part of China but wants Beijing to address differences over the region's future.
On the eve of the Dalai Lama's visit, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted the United States and China -- the world's largest and third-biggest economies -- have a "mature relationship" capable of withstanding disagreements.
"The president stated his strong support for the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People's Republic of China," the White House said.
The Dalai Lama also met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and was greeted across Washington by hundreds of flag-waving Tibetans who chanted, "Long live the Dalai Lama!" and "Thank you, President Obama!"
In another sign that Beijing does not want tensions with Washington to escalate, China has this week allowed a U.S. aircraft carrier to berth in Hong Kong and now a self-administered territory under Chinese control.
China has sometimes barred U.S. navy ships from stopping at Hong Kong during times of tension, including in 2007, when the USS Kitty Hawk was denied entry.
The meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama comes at a troubled time in US-China relations, which have been strained by disputes over US arms sale to Taiwan and Chinese internet censorship.
The Dalai Lama's visit could also complicate Obama's efforts to secure China's help on key issues such as imposing tougher sanctions on Iran, resolving the North Korean nuclear standoff and forging a new global accord on climate change.
Adding to tensions, Obama vowed recently to "get much tougher" with China on trade issues such as trade and the value of its currency, the yuan.
Washington has long complained that China keeps its currency undervalued, hurting the competitiveness of American products.
Chinese Communist troops marched into Tibet in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and has since campaigned for self-rule from exile.
Beijing accuses the Dala Lama of fomenting unrest and seeking to split Tibet from China. The Dalai Lama says he is merely seeking greater autonomy.