China has criticized the U.S. Congress for awarding its highest civilian honor to the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.  VOA's Heda Bayron reports from Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao says China strongly opposes the U.S. Congress's decision to give the Dalai Lama the award.

He says China opposes any country or person who uses the Dalai Lama to interfere in China's internal affairs.

The Dalai Lama is due to receive the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal - the highest civilian award given by the U.S. legislature - next week in Washington.  President Bush is scheduled to attend the ceremony.

Past Congressional Gold Medal awardees include Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill.  

China objects to any heads of state or government meeting with the Dalai Lama.  Last month, Beijing bristled at German Chancellor Angela Merkel for meeting with the Dalai Lama in Berlin, and said the incident harmed Sino-German ties.

The Dalai Lama is the exiled spiritual head of the Tibetan people.  China regards him as a "separatist" who is working to split Tibet from China.

He fled Tibet in 1959 after China invaded his country, and has lived in India ever since.  Since then, he and Beijing have struggled over the status and future of Tibet, and of Tibetan Buddhism.

Originally, the Dalai Lama called for Tibetan independence.  Recently, however, he has said he no longer seeks independence, and asks only for autonomy for his homeland.

Nevertheless, Beijing continues to vilify him.  During the past two days, the Chinese state media have run a series of articles accusing him of encouraging the formation of "evil cults", and instigating deadly unrest in Lhasa in the 1950s.

Representatives of the Dalai Lama have met with Chinese officials in recent years in an attempt to resolve their differences, but no progress has been reported.