China Protests US Congressional Gold Medal for Dalai Lama

China has protested a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that awards Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, with America's highest civilian honor.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on Thursday that China expressed "strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition" to the Dalai Lama receiving the Congressional Gold Medal. He also said the move damages relations between China and the U.S.

The bill, approved on Wednesday, recognized the Dalai Lama's advocacy of religious harmony, non-violence and human rights.

Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, one of the sponsors of the bill, called the Dalai Lama "a unifying voice for world peace."

The Senate passed the bill in May. It now awaits President Bush's signature.

The Congressional Gold Medal has in the past been awarded to Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.

Last week, Canada granted the Dalai Lama honorary Canadian citizenship during his visit to Vancouver. The decision drew a formal complaint from China.

Beijing has long condemned the Dalai Lama as an enemy of Chinese national unity because of his demands for greater autonomy for Tibet. China says it strongly opposes any country's offer to give the Buddhist leader a stage for what it considers his separatist activities.