China has lodged a protest with France over a meeting between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister He Yafei summoned the French ambassador in Beijing Sunday to denounce the meeting.

Mr. Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama for half an hour Saturday in the Polish city of Gdansk at a gathering of Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

Chinese state media quoted He Yafei as saying the meeting was a "gross interference" in China's internal affairs, damaging Sino-French and Sino-EU relations.  France holds the rotating EU presidency.

French Human Rights Minister Rama Yade dismissed China's protest, saying the Dalai Lama is not dangerous and is a man of peace.

The Dalai Lama praised Mr. Sarkozy Sunday for meeting him, saying the French president showed a genuine concern for Tibet despite what he called "difficulties" arising from the talks.

The Tibetan spiritual leader also downplayed the Chinese protest. He said Beijing in the past strongly criticized foreign leaders who met him, but that there was not much of a follow-up.

Yade said France is committed to a strategic partnership with China and wants good trade relations to continue.  Chinese consumers boycotted French products earlier this year after pro-Tibet protests in Paris marred the Olympic torch relay.

Mr. Sarkozy said he told the Dalai Lama that it is important for the Tibetan spiritual leader to continue to pursue dialogue with the Chinese government.  The French leader said the Dalai Lama reiterated a pledge not to demand Tibet's independence from China.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking to separate Tibet from China.  The exiled spiritual leader insists he only wants greater autonomy for Tibet.

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