The Dalai Lama has arrived in Washington in advance of a meeting at the White House with the US president that threatens to further strain already tense US-China ties.
Thursday's planned meeting between the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and Barack Obama has been described as private event by White House officials, but has nonetheless infuriated Beijing.
Obama aides have said Obama will receive the exiled Tibetan leader in the White House Map Room, and not the more official Oval Office usually reserved for meetings with foreign leaders.
The choice of venue - as well as the decision to hold the meeting behind closed doors, rather than in front of the world's media - is being seen as an attempt to acknowledge China's sensitivities over the issue.
The meeting is scheduled to take place at 1615 GMT on Thursday.
The trip follows a series of warnings from Beijing objecting to any meeting with the Dalai Lama and demanding that the US reverse its "wrong decision" in order to "avoid any more damage to Sino-US relations".
China regards any official foreign contact with the Dalai Lama as interference in its internal affairs and an infringement of its sovereignty over Tibet.
As well as meeting Obama the Tibetan leader is also expected to hold talks with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, at the state department.
Mark Toner, Clinton's spokesman, said she will meet the Tibetan monk in her official capacity "as recent secretaries of state have done".
|Obama will meet the Dalai Lama away from the media, officials say [GALLO/GETTY]
He acknowledged that China was upset by the Dalai Lama's trip but said Washington supported a co-operative relationship with Beijing.
"It's a complex relationship," Toner said.
"There're areas where we agree on; there're areas where we disagree on. And, you know, we're going to continue to pursue that relationship vigorously."
The Dalai Lama, 74, has lived in exile in India after fleeing his homeland in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule, some nine years after Chinese troops were sent to take control of the region.
His advisers brushed aside China's criticism as routine and said the White House meeting sent a comforting message to those living in Tibet.
"They will feel encouraged that the president of the United States, a global superpower, is meeting with His Holiness," Chhime Chhoekyapa, the Dalai Lama's secretary, said.
"It means the world has not forgotten them."
On the other hand, Victor Gao, director of the China National Association of International Studies, told Al Jazeera from New York: "From the Chinese perspective, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, is not only a religious leader, but much more - a political activist.
"He also conducts a lot in international politics which is undermining China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
|The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule [AFP]
"So I think China's indignation at the meeting between President Obama and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, is based on this feeling - that the meeting would be destructive of the situation in Tibet and it will also damage China-US relations."
The Dalai Lama enjoys a wide following in the US and every sitting US president has met with him since George Bush senior in 1991.
The Tibetan leader and Nobel peace laureate says he accepts Chinese rule over Tibet, but China has branded him a "wolf in monk's clothes" and accuses him of advocating separatism.
In January Chinese officials held talks with the Dalai Lama's envoys, the first between the two sides since November 2008.
However, no details from the talks have emerged and there has been no sign that they achieved any significant breakthrough.
Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama comes at an already tense time in Sino-US relations.
Contentious arms sale
In recent weeks China has protested against a US decision to approve a $6.4bn arms sale to Taiwan, the self-governing island Beijing regards as its territory awaiting reunification.
Relations have also been strained by a row over alleged cyberattacks on Google, the California-based internet search giant, as well as a raft of other trade and currency agreements.
Despite all these tensions, however, the Obama administration is keen to avoid alienating Beijing because it needs China's backing for the tougher UN sanctions it wants to impose on Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.
It is also courting China's help on other fronts as well, including efforts to disarm North Korea, combat climate change, and pull the global economy out of recession.