China has criticised Washington after US President Barack Obama welcomed the Dalai Lama to the White House, saying the meeting had damaged relations between the two countries.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said that 'such an act has grossly interfered in China's internal affairs, hurt the feelings of Chinese people and damaged the Sino-American relations.'

Mr Obama welcomed the Dalai Lama and pledged support for human rights in Tibet, after appeals mounted in the US for a meeting.

In line with Mr Obama's last meeting with the Dalai Lama in February 2010, the White House tried to make the visit as low-key as possible.

Mr Obama was to receive the Dalai Lama in the Map Room - not the Oval Office where he welcomes heads of state.

The White House made the announcement late yesterday after a long silence on whether Mr Obama would meet the Dalai Lama, who was to leave today after an 11-day visit to Washington to lead thousands in a Buddhist meditation ritual.

The Dalai Lama said that President Obama shared 'genuine concerns' about human rights in Tibet during a White House meeting.

He said that Mr Obama is 'president of the greatest democratic country, so naturally he is showing concern about basic human values, human rights, religious freedom.'

China's foreign ministry said it urged the US to 'immediately revoke its decision' and to 'honour its serious commitment that recognises Tibet as part of China.'

'We are firmly opposed to any foreign politician meeting the Dalai Lama in any form whatsoever,’ Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, warning that the meeting ‘could harm US-Chinese relations’.

The Dalai Lama, who enjoys wide popularity in the US, has lived in exile since 1959. The Nobel Peace Prize winner, a declared pacifist, says he is peacefully seeking rights for Tibetans and accepts Chinese rule.

US lawmakers welcomed the 76-year-old monk to the Capitol on 7 July and several of them had criticised Mr Obama, believing he had decided not to meet the Dalai Lama in deference to pressure from China.