China Protests US Award for Dalai Lama

Beijing, China - The United States has "gravely undermined" relations with China by giving the Dalai Lama an award, the Chinese government said Thursday.

On Wednesday, President Bush presented Tibet's exiled spiritual leader with the U.S. Congress' highest civilian honor and urged Chinese leaders to welcome him to Beijing.

"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 said.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi summoned U.S. Ambassador Clark T. Randt to express "strong protest to the U.S. government," Liu said.

China had warned that giving the award to a person it believes is trying to split its country would have serious consequences for relations, but has not said what it would do.

"China urges the United States to take effective measures immediately to remove the terrible impact of its erroneous act ... and take concrete steps to protect China-U.S. relations," Liu said.

He did not say what measures Washington should take.

"The U.S. is fully aware of what kind of actions will benefit China-U.S. relations," Liu said.

With the Dalai Lama by his side, Bush praised a man he called a "universal symbol of peace and tolerance, a shepherd of the faithful and a keeper of the flame for his people."

The Dalai Lama is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, but China reviles as a Tibetan separatist and for the past week has vehemently protested the elaborate public ceremony.

The 72-year-old monk and 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate says he wants "real autonomy" for Tibet, not independence. He is immensely popular in the Himalayan region, which China has ruled with a heavy hand since its communist-led forces invaded in 1951. He has lived with followers in exile in India since fleeing Chinese soldiers in Tibet in 1959.