China has condemned Barack Obama for "gross interference" in its internal affairs after the US President met the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, at the White House for the second time in his presidency.
The unusually strong reaction from Beijing threatens to cool relations between the countries, just as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flies to the Far East to discuss regional security, and as the US struggles to deal with a federal debt substantially funded by China.
Mr Obama's 44-minute meeting with the Dalai Lama on Saturday included discussion of human rights in Tibet. The President "reiterated his strong support for the preservation of the unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions of Tibet and the Tibetan people throughout the world," a White House spokesman said.
The Dalai Lama was in the US capital for an 11-day Buddhist festival. The Communist regime in Beijing had already been angered by his meetings with other senior American political figures, including the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. It had urged the administration to cancel Saturday's meeting with Mr Obama.
"Such an act has grossly interfered in China's internal affairs, hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and damaged Sino-American relations," the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement. "We demand the US side seriously consider China's stance, immediately adopt measures to wipe out the baneful impact, stop interfering in China's internal affairs and cease to connive and support anti-China separatist forces that seek 'Tibetan independence'."
Chinese diplomats followed up the condemnation by summoning Robert Wang, the chargé d'affaires at the US embassy in Beijing, to lodge the country's objections. "Maintaining the continuous stable development of Sino-US ties requires hard work from both sides," a Chinese statement said.
As with the President's first meeting with the Dalai Lama in February 2010, in deference to China, the two men met not in the Oval Office but in the more modest Map Room of the White House.
The US position on Tibet does not include support for independence. The Dalai Lama says he does not support independence, but rather a peaceful transition to greater autonomy for the territory, which has been under Chinese rule for 60 years.