President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama will both attend the annual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday in Washington, but it is not clear whether the two will meet.
White House officials on Wednesday played down suggestions President Obama would publicly interact with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader at the event, an act sure to rile China.
National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement Wednesday the president is a "strong supporter of the Dalai Lama's teachings and preserving Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions."
"As he has done in the past, the president will see many religious leaders at the event, but we don’t have any specific meeting with the Dalai Lama to announce," she added.
Despite the Dalai Lama's insistence that he is only seeking autonomy for Tibet, China views the spiritual leader as a dangerous separatist, and regularly condemns leaders who meet with him.
"We are against any country’s interference in China’s domestic affairs under the pretext of Tibet-related issues, and are opposed to any foreign leader’s meeting with the Dalai Lama in any form,” China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday.
Since taking office, President Obama has met the Dalai Lama three times. But none of the meetings have been held in public.
Over 3,000 people from various faith backgrounds are expected to attend the high-profile National Prayer Breakfast, which will focus on the importance of religious freedom.
Many Tibetans in China accuse the government of a campaign of religious and cultural persecution, as the country's majority Han ethnic group continues to move into historically Tibetan areas.
China rejects that, saying Tibetans enjoy religious freedom. Beijing also points to huge ongoing investment it says has brought modernization and an increased standard of living to Tibet.
Since February 2009, more than 126 people have self-immolated in traditionally Tibetan areas of China to protest Beijing's policy in their homeland.
The Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Authority, located in India, are outspoken critics of China's policies, but have discouraged the suicide protests.