ULAN BATOR, Mongolia — The Dalai Lama began a series of lectures to Buddhists in Mongolia on Tuesday in a low-key visit which nonetheless drew a protest from neighboring China.
The Tibetan spiritual leader spoke at a Chinese-built sports stadium on the outskirts of Ulan Bator that underscored the economic sway that Beijing exercises over landlocked and largely poor Mongolia.
In an attempt to allay Chinese concerns about the Buddhist leader, senior Mongolian lamas repeatedly said the visit was purely religious.
In Beijing, however, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China had made "a solemn representation" to Mongolia and was opposed to any country giving a platform to the Dalai Lama. China accuses the Dalai Lama of wanting to split Tibet from China, a charge the Nobel Peace Prize laureate denies.
Mongolia's people traditionally follow the Tibetan school of Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama has visited at least a half dozen times.
"This is a purely religious visit made at the request of Mongolian Buddhist lay-believers and monks," said Choijamts Demberel, head of the Mongolian Buddhist center and head abbot of Ganden Thekchen Choeling monastery.
The Dalai Lama's visit comes at time of renewed unrest in Tibetan areas of China, where at least 11 people have set themselves on fire since March to protest Chinese rule. At least five have died.
The Dalai Lama has said that China's "ruthless policy" was behind the self-immolations. China accuses the Dalai Lama and his supporters of stirring up trouble in ethnic Tibetan areas and encouraging followers to set themselves on fire.
Many Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama to be their rightful leader. He fled from Tibet to India in 1959 during an unsuccessful anti-Beijing uprising and is reviled by China's Communist government.
When the Dalai Lama visited Mongolia in 2002, China held up trains at the border. There were no reports of that on Tuesday.
China is Mongolia's biggest trading partner. The two signed a strategic partnership deal in June during a visit by Premier Wen Jiabao.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.