President Barack Obama met with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama Friday at the White House, despite stern warnings from China.
"The United States' arrangement for its leader to meet the Dalai would be a gross interference in China's internal affairs," Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry, said in a statement after the White House announced it would host the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner. She called the meeting "a serious violation of the norms of international relations" and said it would "seriously damage Sino-U.S. relations."
China has declared the exiled monk – who fled the Chinese-controlled land of Tibet in 1959 – a "wolf in sheep's clothing” who uses violent means to bring about Tibetan independence, Reuters reported.
However, the White House said the meeting would take place as planned.
“The president will meet with the Dalai Lama in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.
The meeting was a rather private affair, similar to Obama's last two meetings with the Dalai Lama in 2010 and 2011, according to USA Today.
The two leaders met in the White House's Map Room, rather than the Oval Office, without cameras or reporters.
Many saw the low-key meeting as a U.S. attempt to maintain a relationship with the Tibetan leader while keeping cordial relations with China. "The United States supports the Dalai Lama's 'Middle Way' approach of neither assimilation nor independence for Tibetans in China," Hayden said.
In a statement after the meeting, the White House said Obama "reiterated his strong support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China."
"The President reiterated the U.S. position that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China and that the United States does not support Tibet independence," the White House said. "The Dalai Lama stated that he is not seeking independence for Tibet and hopes that dialogue between his representatives and the Chinese government will resume."
Some U.S. officials say they are worried about human rights violations in the Tibetan areas of China and hope to encourage Chinese officials to resume talks with the Tibetan leader, The Associated Press reported.
Though China’s threats to countries that host the Dalai Lama are fairly common, it has yet to follow through on any strong threats made to the U.S. Others have not been as lucky: In 2012, China reduced ties with Britain when Prime Minister David Cameron met with the Dalai Lama, The Washington Post reported.