BEIJING (AP) -- China on Friday demanded its northern neighbor, Mongolia, scrap a visit by the Dalai Lama, labeling the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader a separatist who seeks to alienate Chinese-controlled Tibet from Beijing.
The 81-year-old monk is starting a four-day visit to predominantly Buddhist Mongolia on Friday evening. His visit is being described by his hosts as purely religious in nature and no meetings with officials are planned.
Despite that, China's Foreign Ministry reiterated its rigid opposition to all foreign travel by the Dalai Lama, who has been based in India since fleeing Tibet during an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
The Dalai Lama is a "political exile who has long been engaging in splitting China activities in the name of religion with the aim of alienating Tibet from China," ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
"We strongly demand that Mongolia, for the purpose of maintaining the general picture of a sound and steady development of bilateral ties, earnestly stick to its commitment on Tibet-related issues, does not allow the visit by the Dalai Lama and does not provide any form of support and convenience to the Dalai Lama clique," he said.
Mongolia's herding and resource-centered economy is heavily dependent on China and the country is currently in negotiations for a $4.2 billion loan from Beijing to help pull it out of a deep recession.
Mongolian Buddhism is closely tied to Tibet's strain and traditionally reveres the Dalai Lama as a leading spiritual figure. The Dalai Lama made the first of his eight visits to Mongolia in 1979, when the country was still under Communist rule.