Mongolia has cut short a lecture tour due to be given by the Dalai Lama, a government minister said on Tuesday, under pressure from China, which brands Tibet's exiled spiritual leader a dangerous separatist.
Ulan Bator has restricted the Dalai Lama to just one lecture on Tuesday, Mongolian Transportation Minister Battulga Khaltmaa told reporters following a cabinet meeting.
But the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's planned talk on Tuesday at the Mongolian capital's new 4,000-seat Buyant-Ukhaa sports complex, which was constructed using Chinese aid, went ahead despite government efforts to move the lecture to a less controversial location.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing had made stern representations to the government in Ulan Bator about the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
We have always opposed any country providing a platform for the Dalai Lama to engage in activities to split China in any form, he told a regular press briefing on Tuesday.
The Dalai Lama always uses the opportunity of furtive visits to publicise Tibetan independence, smear the Chinese government and play up issues related to Tibet.
The Dalai Lama, fresh from a visit to Japan, arrived in the Mongolian capital on Monday for a three-day lecture tour at a invitation of a Buddhist group. He denies being a separatist, saying he only seeks autonomy for his homeland.
Choijamtsa, the head monk at Mongolia's Gandan-Tegchilen monastery, which is organising the visit, told Reuters that organisers remained determined to go ahead with the planned lectures.
This is Mongolian territory and Mongolian property and we are going to do it even if others oppose it, he said.
The Dalai Lama's visit comes amid growing concern about China's hardline rule in ethnically Tibetan parts of the country.
At least 11 Tibetans have set themselves ablaze this year in the western Chinese province of Sichuan in protest against government controls on their religion and culture.
Beijing has blamed the Dalai Lama for encouraging unrest, but the spiritual leader said the situation was caused by Chinese policies in the region, which amounted to cultural genocide.
Mongolia, landlocked between China in the south and Russia in the north, has seen a rapid revival of Tibetan Buddhism since the collapse of the Soviet-backed Communist government in 1990, and the Dalai Lama is recognised as one of the country's spiritual leaders.
China has been accused by human rights groups of using its growing economic clout to pressure trading partners into refusing visits by the Dalai Lama. His plans to visit South Africa earlier this year were cancelled amid accusations that the government in Cape Town had refused to process his visa.
Mongolia won its political independence from China in 1912, but Beijing did not recognise its sovereignty until 1946, and many in Mongolia are concerned about Beijing's growing economic hegemony.
Mongolia's booming, mining-dependent economy is almost completely reliant on its southern neighbour, with 90 percent of its exports going to China in the first half of this year.
During the Dalai Lama's previous tour of Mongolia in 2002, China retaliated by closing the border rail crossing for two days, leaving 500 passengers stranded and severing one of the country's few links with the outside world.
Mining companies based near the Chinese border said they were not aware of any disruptions to border transport so far.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by David Stanway; Editing by Nick Macfie)