Dalai Lama speech in Mongolia risks angering China
The Dalai Lama has preached to thousands of supporters in Mongolia, during a visit which is set to test the country's ties with China at a time when it is seeking a critical aid package from its powerful neighbour.
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader addressed followers at the Gandantegchenlin monastery in Ulan Bator and spoke about materialism to kick-start a four-day visit which Mongolia has said will be purely religious in nature and will not include meetings with officials.
Nevertheless, the trip could have repercussions for landlocked Mongolia's relationship with China, which protested previous visits by the Dalai Lama by briefly closing its border in 2002 and temporarily cancelling flights from Beijing in 2006.
China views the Dalai Lama as a separatist seeking to split Tibet from China and strongly opposes all countries from hosting the monk, who has been based in India since fleeing Tibet during an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
On Friday, China's Foreign Ministry strongly urged Mongolia to deny the Dalai Lama a visit for the sake of a "sound and steady" development of bilateral ties.
The Dalai Lama's visit comes at a time when Mongolian leaders are seeking a 4.2 billion US dollar (£3.4 billion) loan from Beijing to pull the country out of a deep recession. With commodity prices slumping, Mongolia is running out of hard currency to repay foreign debts and is seeking help from a neighbour that accounts for roughly 90% of its exports.
Mongolian Buddhism is closely tied to Tibet's strain and many in the heavily Buddhist country revere the Dalai Lama, who made his first visit in 1979.
Mongolian religious figures say the visit could be the last for the 81-year-old spiritual leader, and some of his followers traveled hundreds of miles to see him while braving the coldest November temperatures in a decade.
Daritseren, a 73-year-old ethnic Mongolian from Russian Siberia, said she only heard on Friday that the Dalai Lama was visiting Mongolia and travelled with 40 other people for 15 hours overnight to make it just in time for the sermon.
Boldbaatar, a 75-year-old herder, said he rushed from 125 miles (200km) away.
"I'm an old man," he said. "Maybe I'm seeing His Holiness, the incarnation of Lord Buddha, for the last time."
The Dalai Lama is scheduled to chant special sutras on Sunday at a large sports facility built by Chinese companies through Chinese aid.
Religious scholars say during the visit the Dalai Lama is expected to offer input on the search for the 10th reincarnation of the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, a top-ranked lama in Buddhism.