Bush is to speak at the presentation of the medal, whose recipients have included Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II, and will also host the Dalai Lama at the White House on Tuesday.
Melissa Chan, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Beijing, said: “Tibet is one of China’s biggest liabilities in terms of the country’s global public image.
“Unfortunately, the Tibet cause will only pick up interest and momentum as China prepares to host the world’s biggest public event, the Olympics, next year.”
China is one of six nations that have offered Iran a deal to stop its disputed nuclear activities, and Wednesday’s meeting in Berlin was part of the US-led drive to punish Iran for spurning the offer.
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China is considered the main hurdle to US plans to impose new United Nations sanctions on Iran.
China and Russia, which have economic ties to Iran, have gone along so far with an international effort to coerce Iran away from an alleged weapons programme but negotiations on the next round of sanctions is expected to be difficult.
The six-nation diplomatic meeting is still expected to take place, perhaps a week later, said the US official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy did not directly dispute the US depiction, but said that the date for the Iran meeting was “not suitable” for the Chinese delegation.
As for the Dalai Lama, the spokesman, Wang Baodong, said the embassy strongly urged the US side to “stick to its commitment of recognising Tibet as part of China and not supporting Tibetan independence”.
He said the award would encourage separatist activities and further damage US-China relations.
China recently cancelled December human rights talks with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, after she meeting the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader last month.
China routinely criticises visits abroad by the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet for India in 1959 during a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, he remains popular among Tibetans and is widely respected abroad.
China claims Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were independent for most of that period.