China voices 'strong dissatisfaction' over Harper's meeting with Dalai Lama

Beijing, China - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's highly publicized meeting with the Dalai Lama at his Ottawa office was criticized by the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday as "gross interference" in China's internal affairs.

"We express strong dissatisfaction" with Monday's meeting, ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference. "We hope they can reflect on and correct the erroneous actions."

Harper welcomed the Dalai Lama publicly, and deliberately, in his Parliament Hill office Monday, lending an air of political support to his cause.

The red carpet treatment was just the latest in a string of warm western welcomes for the Dalai Lama that have included meetings with U.S. President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Dalai Lama is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, but Beijing claims the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate seeks to destroy China's sovereignty by pushing for Tibet's independence.

China has ruled with a heavy hand since its forces invaded in 1951. The Dalai Lama, who fled Chinese rule for exile in northern India in 1959, remains immensely popular in Tibet and says he wants autonomy for the vast Himalayan region not independence.

Despite his long international campaign for autonomy, suppression of Tibet's religion, language and culture is getting worse, he said Monday.

The warm reception for the Dalai Lama, who was granted honorary Canadian citizenship in 2006, was also strongly criticized by officials at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa, who held a late-day news conference Monday.

"It is a blatant interference in China's internal affairs and has severely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and will gravely undermine the relationship between China and Canada," said political counsellor Sun Lushan, who would not specify what the concrete consequences might be.

Harper's secretary of state for multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, made clear his government remains unfazed. He pointed out that exports to China and Chinese tourism have actually risen in the year since Parliament bestowed honorary citizenship on the Dalai Lama.

"I hope the entire world gets the message that attacking a 72-year-old Buddhist monk who advocates nothing more than cultural autonomy for his people is counterproductive," said Kenney, a longtime advocate for human rights in China.