China protests at Dalai Lama's visit

China protested against the Dalai Lama's visit to Britain yesterday, as it emerged that officials in Beijing had made a concerted effort to have the trip called off.

In addition to making representations to the Government the Chinese sent a delegation to Liverpool John Moores University, where the Tibetan spiritual leader was granted an honorary fellowship.

Prince Charles greets the Dalai Lama at a reception in London

The fact that Tony Blair avoided meeting the Dalai Lama, because of "diary pressures", appears to have only partially appeased the Chinese.

A foreign ministry spokesman said: "We oppose the Dalai Lama and his followers engaging in splittist [sic] activities in the international arena, and we also oppose any officials meeting the Dalai Lama."

Beijing regards Tibet as an integral part of China. The criticism over the visit is mild in comparison to others made in the past, partly a reflection of the fact that Mr Blair did not meet the religious leader personally.

With relations between China and Britain and Europe improving, and Beijing seeking to have the European Union's arms embargo lifted, the authorities may feel a lower level meeting is a compromise they can live with.

Although the Dalai has said he would return to Tibet even under Chinese sovereignty as long as there were guarantees of its autonomy and freedom to pursue its traditional way of life, the chances of a settlement seem more remote than ever.

In 2002, there was a brief flurry of diplomatic activity, but that has once more given way to blanket condemnation of the "Dalai Clique" in the state media.

A "white paper" issued earlier this week demanded that he "look reality in the face" and "relinquish his stand for Tibetan independence".

Alison Reynolds, the director of the Free Tibet Campaign, criticised Mr Blair for not meeting the Dalai in person.

The Dalai Lama spent the evening as a guest of the Prince of Wales, a known admirer, at a St James's Palace reception.

A Clarence House spokeswoman said: "For many years he has been concerned about the situation of the people of Tibet and has been impressed by the Dalai Lama's efforts to seek a peaceful resolution."

Earlier the 68-year-old monk, who was exiled from Tibet by China in 1950 and now lives in India, gave a lecture on secular ethics to 2,000 people at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral.