Image: Dalai Lama
Kevin Rivoli  /  AP
Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, center, takes the stage with members from other religious faiths during a prayers for world peace interfaith dialogue in Ithaca, N.Y., Wednesday.
updated 10/11/2007 12:59:22 PM ET 2007-10-11T16:59:22

Risking heightened tensions with China, President Bush will attend a ceremony to award Congress' highest civilian honor to the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader whom Beijing reviles as a separatist.

Bush will go to the Capitol on Wednesday to speak at the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal, whose recipients have included Mother Teresa, former South African President Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and Ronald and Nancy Reagan. The president also will welcome the Dalai Lama in the White House residence Tuesday.

Beijing expressed its unhappiness about honoring the Dalai Lama, the winner of the 1989 Peace Prize.

"China resolutely opposes the U.S. Congress awarding the Dalai its so-called Congressional Gold Medal, and firmly opposes any country or any person using the Dalai issue to interfere in China's internal affairs," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said at a news conference in Beijing.

Liu said China had "presented a representation" to Washington over Congress' move, but gave no details.

Get to know the Dalai Lama
In his remarks on Wednesday, Bush will say that "the Dalai Lama is a great spiritual leader whose aim is for the Tibetan people to be able to worship freely and to protect their land, but that they are not seeking independence from China," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "The leaders of China should get to know the Dalai Lama like we've gotten to know him."

The Dalai Lama will be honored for his "many enduring and outstanding contributions to peace, nonviolence, human rights, and religious understanding."

The Dalai Lama has been based in India since fleeing his Himalayan homeland in 1959 amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He remains immensely popular among Tibetans, despite persistent efforts to demonize him by Beijing, which objects vigorously to all overseas visits by the Dalai Lama.

Free Tibet?
China claims Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that period.

In its announcement, Congress said that the Dalai Lama was "recognized in the United States and throughout the world as a leading figure of moral and religious authority."

It praised him for fighting for democracy, freedom, and Tibet's cultural heritage, saying he promoted peace for Tibet "through a negotiated settlement of the Tibet issue, based on autonomy within the People's Republic of China."

The Dalai Lama insists he wants "real autonomy," not independence for Tibet, but Beijing continues to accuse him of seeking to split the region from China.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments