Australia Rejects China's Criticism of Dalai Lama Visit

Australia's foreign minister is brushing off Beijing's criticism of a visit to Australia by Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Wednesday that Canberra views the Dalai Lama as a significant religious figure. He urged China to respect Australia's political system, and said the Dalai Lama is welcome to visit Australia any time.

On Tuesday, China denounced the Dalai Lama's visit to Australia, repeating its stance that he is engaged in activities intended to split Tibet from Chinese rule.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has agreed to meet with the 71-year-old Buddhist spiritual leader on Friday. The Dalai Lama met with Australian opposition leader Kevin Rudd Tuesday evening.

The Tibetan spiritual leader says his 11-day tour of Australia is meant to promote human values and religious harmony.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after Chinese troops suppressed an uprising.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.