Video: President Bush angers China

updated 10/18/2007 4:36:15 PM ET 2007-10-18T20:36:15

China warned the United States on Thursday that its honoring of the Dalai Lama "gravely undermined" relations between the two countries, demanding Washington stop supporting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and take steps to repair ties.

The Foreign Ministry statement was the most vociferous yet in weeks of protests against Congress' decision to award the Dalai Lama its highest civilian honor, personally bestowed by President Bush in a ceremony Wednesday.

"The move of the United States is a blatant interference with China's internal affairs which has severely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and gravely undermined the relations between China and the United States," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters.

In a sign of Beijing's pique, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi also summoned U.S. Ambassador Clark Randt to formally protest the giving of the award.

The Dalai Lama is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, but China reviles him as a Tibetan separatist. The 72-year-old monk and Nobel Peace Prize laureate reiterated in Washington that he wants "real autonomy" for Tibet, not independence.

The strains over the Dalai Lama come as the U.S. and China try to manage a host of issues that have tested their abilities to cooperate. While the two have worked closely on North Korea, their positions are further apart in pressuring Iran over its nuclear program and Myanmar for crushing a democracy movement. Friction also persists over trade and Taiwan.

The decision by Washington to honor the Dalai Lama is a setback to Beijing's efforts to lend legitimacy to China's often harsh rule over Tibet and undermine support for the spiritual leader, who remains popular among Tibetans despite fleeing into exile 48 years ago after a failed uprising.

Tibetans celebrate
Thousands of Tibetan exiles celebrated the award Thursday in Dharmsala, the Indian town where the Dalai Lama set up his government in exile. Tibetan flags, which are banned in Chinese-controlled Tibet, flew from buildings. Shops and schools were closed, and the exiles had a daylong picnic with dance performances at the Dalai Lama's Tsuglakhang temple.

"This award doesn't just honor the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people but all the peace-loving people in the world," said Dawa Tsering, a parliamentarian in the government in exile.

Liu, the Chinese spokesman, said Washington's actions encouraged Tibetan separatists, and demanded it take corrective action.

"China urges the United States to take effective measures immediately to remove the terrible impact of its erroneous act, cease supporting and conniving with the separatist activities of the Tibet independence forces ... and take concrete steps to protect China-U.S. relations," Liu said.

Though Beijing warned earlier this week of serious consequences, Liu refused to say what China would do and did not specify what redress Washington should make.

China pulled out of a planned strategy session the U.S. had arranged on Iran Wednesday, citing "technical reasons," but said the countries involved would discuss setting another meeting date.

Serious repercussions unlikely
Despite the bluster, Beijing is unlikely to take actions that would jeopardize relations with the U.S., its largest trading partner, and increasingly a diplomatic one, experts said.

"I think there will be meetings postponed or canceled," said Joseph Fewsmith, a Chinese politics expert and professor at Boston University. But "I don't think that China wants to throw the whole relationship into difficulty because of this particular meeting."

Besides the access to the valuable American market, China is also counting on the Bush administration to rein in Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province. Taiwan's democratic government has taken steps toward formalizing the de facto independence it has enjoyed since splitting from China 58 years ago — moves that Beijing has said could bring war.

"China's future development is so closely tied to a functional relationship with the U.S. that it's hard to see it really wishing to damage that in any fundamental way," said Tony Saich, a professor of international affairs at Harvard University.

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