BEIJING - China is opposed to foreign countries receiving the Dalai Lama, a government spokesman said Friday, the day after US President Barack Obama held a symbolic first public encounter with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

‘We are against foreign countries interfering in China’s domestic affairs under the pretext of Tibet-related issues,’ Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters. ‘The Dalai Lama is seeking support from foreign countries to realise his political end, but he cannot succeed,’ Hong said, calling the spiritual leader ‘a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the pretext of religion’.

At a high-profile Washington prayer breakfast Thursday, Obama and the Dalai Lama saluted each other across a plush ballroom and the US president heaped praise on the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is reviled by Beijing. ‘I want to offer a special welcome to a good friend,’ said Obama - also a Nobel laureate - describing the Dalai Lama as ‘a powerful example of what it means to practise compassion’.

It was the first time the two men have been seen together in public. Three previous encounters have been held behind closed doors, and outside the Oval Office, to avoid risking relations with China. The 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule and has lived in exile in India ever since. Beijing accuses him of seeking to split Tibet from the rest of China and has called him a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’.

More than 130 ethnic Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 in protest at Beijing’s rule, campaign groups and overseas media have said.

Most of them have died. The Dalai Lama - who says he supports ‘meaningful autonomy’ for Tibet within China rather than outright independence - has described the protests as acts of desperation that he is powerless to stop. Hong said that Beijing is ‘opposed to any foreign country providing a platform for Dalai Lama visits’.

‘We have pointed out on many occasions that Tibet issues bear on China’s core issues and national feelings,’ he said. Beijing’s threats against countries granting a platform to the 79-year-old Buddhist leader have produced some victories for the ruling Communist Party. In the last five years, South Africa has thrice declined a visa for the Dalai Lama, most recently ahead of a planned meeting of Nobel laureates last September. Organisers eventually moved the summit to Rome after an outcry from other laureates. Norway’s government last spring announced that it would not meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to Oslo, in a controversial decision Prime Minister Erna Solberg described as a ‘necessary sacrifice’ to repair strained relations with China. Beijing has continued to shut out Oslo, however, in a diplomatic deep freeze that has persisted since the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Moreover, the United States has invited the leaders of China and Japan for prestigious state visits, President Barack Obama’s top security adviser said Friday, signaling a deepening of his ‘pivot to Asia.’ ‘In furtherance of our relationships throughout this vital region, I’m pleased to announce today that we have invited Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe of Japan and President Xi Jinping of China for state visits,’ said National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

Rice also said that President Joko Widodo of Indonesia and President Park Chung-hee of South Korea would also visit the United States this year. Xi’s visit to the White House would be the first since becoming Chinese leader. Beijing has seen Obama’s ‘pivot’ to Asia as a possible attempt to contain China’s meteoric rise, a claim Washington denies.

The announcement comes as the United States and Japan approach the final stage of talks on a vast trade agreement that would link a dozen countries on either side of the Pacific Ocean. The timing of the state visits was not clear, but Abe’s arrival is only expected after the conclusion of the trade deal, which still faces major hurdles. President Obama has yet to ask Congress to give him authority to negotiate a deal, amid opposition from within his own Democratic party. His negotiating partners want to see that authority in place before putting the final touches on an agreement, but issues like agriculture and auto tariffs are potential stumbling blocks.