(The Dalai Lama arrives to deliver A Talk for World Peace on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 9, 2011/Yuri Gripas)

China accused the United States on Sunday of “grossly” interfering in its internal affairs and seriously damaging relations after President Barack Obama met exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House. Obama met the Nobel Prize laureate for 45 minutes, praising him for embracing non-violence while reiterating that the United States did not support independence for Tibet.

China, which accuses the Dalai Lama of being a separatist who supports the use of violence to set up an independent Tibet, reacted swiftly, saying Obama’s meeting had had a “baneful” impact, and summoning a senior U.S. diplomat in Beijing.

“This action is a gross interference in China’s internal affairs, hurts the feelings of the Chinese people and damages Sino-U.S. relations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement released in the early hours of Sunday. “The Dalai Lama has for a long time used the banner of religion to engage in anti-China splittist activities,” he added.

Obama stressed the “importance he attaches to building a U.S.-China cooperative partnership,” the White House said. “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,” spokesman Jay Carney said after the meeting. “He underscored the importance of the protection of human rights of Tibetans in China. The president commended the Dalai Lama’s commitment to nonviolence and dialogue with China.”