Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has overcome Chinese diplomatic protests to visit to Mongolia.

Hundreds of supporters braved cold weather to greet the Dalai Lama with chants and music. Later, he presided at a religious service in a monastery in Mongolia's capital, Ulan Bator, which thousands attended.

It is the first time he has been able to travel to Mongolia in seven years. Mongolia and Tibet share a strong religious tradition based on Tantric Buddhism and both view the Dalai Lama as a major religious leader.

But China sees the Dalai Lama as a politician intent on splitting the strategic Tibetan region away from the rest of China. Beijing imposed communist rule in Tibet half a century ago.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said China's northern neighbor should not have given the Dalai Lama a platform to spread his views.

There has been an apparent thawing of relations between Beijing and the Dalai Lama. A few months ago China allowed two representatives of the spiritual leader to hold talks with Chinese officials in Beijing and Tibet.