WASHINGTON -- Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama used a high-profile ceremony in the US Capitol on Wednesday to warn of social and environmental problems occurring in his homeland under Chinese rule.
In a speech to accept the US Congress' top civilian award and with US President George W. Bush in the audience, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner highlighted many of his concerns over the once-remote Himalayan region.
"Every year, the Chinese population inside Tibet is increasing at an alarming rate," the 72-year-old said.
"And, if we are to judge by the example of the population of Lhasa [the region's capital], there is a real danger that the Tibetans will be reduced to an insignificant minority in their own homeland," the Dalai Lama said.
The Dalai Lama also warned that the rapid increase in Tibet's population was posing a "serious threat" to the region's environment.
"Being the source of many of Asia's great rivers, any substantial disturbance in Tibet's ecology will impact the lives of hundreds of millions," he said.
Calling for dialogue with China's rulers, he urged them to "have the courage and wisdom" to address his concerns.
"Let me take this opportunity to once again appeal to the Chinese leadership to recognize the grave problems in Tibet, the genuine grievances and deep resentments of the Tibetan people inside Tibet," he said.
China has ruled Tibet since sending troops into the region in 1950 and officially "liberating" it the following year.
The Dalai Lama fled the region in 1959 following a failed uprising and now campaigns for Tibet's autonomy, although Beijing believes he wants independence and regularly denounces him as a dangerous separatist.
"I am seeking a meaningful autonomy for the Tibetan people within the People's Republic of China. Furthermore, I have no intention of using any agreement on autonomy as a stepping stone for Tibet's independence," he said.
China has been enraged by the celebrations for the Dalai Lama in Washington this week, branding them a "gross interference" in its internal affairs and warning Sino-US ties would be seriously damaged.
Wednesday's ceremony at the US Capitol's ornate Rotunda marked the first time a sitting US president had been seen in public with the Dalai Lama. Bush also met him a day earlier in a private meeting at the White House residence.