Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama arrives to greet people gathered at the Gandan Tegchinlen monastery in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Nov. 19, 2016. Reuters

Chinese students at the University of California, San Diego, are protesting an upcoming visit from the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. The students called the university's decision to ask the Dalai Lama to serve as this year's commencement speaker culturally disrespectful and described the holy man as a separatist leader intent on dividing their home country, a view shared by China's Communist Party.

The Chinese Students and Scholars Association at UCSD said it contacted the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles to initiate negotiations with “relevant departments” at the university. Students also protested the decision on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #ChineseStudentsMatter.

“The Dalai Lama is not only a religious personality but also a political exile who has long been carrying out actions to divide the motherland and to destroy national unity,” the Chinese Students and Scholars Association said in a statement translated from Chinese by Inside Higher Ed. The group said it would be “firm in boycotting any action taking any form, with unclear motives, that denigrate and belittle Chinese history, that recklessly disseminate provocative and extremely politically hostile discourse, in turn affecting the international image of China.”

The statement adds: "These actions have dampened the passion for learning in many Chinese students and scholars."

Student Ruixuan Wang explained in the main UCSD student newspaper, The Guardian, that family members visiting from China for commencement would find the speech offensive. "The Dalai Lama, as a political icon, is viewed differently in our country. We want to spend a fantastic time with our family during the commencement, but his presence will ruin our joy," Wang wrote. "What we want to say is that objectively, he will be an excellent speaker for the commencement. Nonetheless, culturally speaking, his selection to be a presenter is inappropriate in such a situation, considering how many Chinese students and their families are going to attend this commencement.”

The university, however, has said it would not back down. The commencement ceremony was scheduled for June 17 and is by invitation only.

“The University of California, San Diego, has always served as a forum for discussion and interaction on important public policy issues and respects the rights of individuals to agree or disagree as we consider issues of our complex world,” the university said. “Our 2017 speaker, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, carries a message that promotes global responsibility and service to humanity that is of great interest to the UC San Diego community and to our students as they enter their professional lives. As a public university dedicated to the civil exchange of views, the university believes commencement is one of many events that provide an appropriate opportunity to present to graduates and their families a message of reflection and compassion.”

UCSD chancellor, Pradeep K. Khosla, called the Dalai Lama “a man of peace” who “promotes global responsibility and service to humanity.” He is the winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for "nonviolent opposition to China's occupation of Tibet."