PRESIDENT Barack Obama has welcomed the Dalai Lama to the White House for the third time, defying Beijing's warnings that the meeting would "inflict grave damage" on already tense US-China relations.
Mr Obama spent an hour with the Tibetan spiritual leader yesterday, ignoring Chinese calls to cancel the meeting with a man it describes as "a wolf in sheep's clothing".
Beijing claims the Dalai Lama (78) is an enemy of the state, bent on winning independence for Tibet, and has said foreign leaders who meet him will "pay a price". A meeting between David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the Dalai Lama in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral in 2012 led to an 18-month "deep freeze" in diplomatic relations between Britain and China.
While the White House refused to give in to demands to call off yesterday's encounter, it was carefully choreographed to avoid further provoking China.
The press were kept out of the meeting, which was held in the White House's Map Room as opposed to the Oval Office, where Mr Obama usually receives foreign leaders.
The White House said the Dalai Lama was there "in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural figure leader" rather than as a political figure.
That did not stop the Chinese government issuing a stern rebuke to the US, as it did before Mr Obama's two previous meetings in July 2011 and February 2010.