WASHINGTON - The Dalai Lama was bestowed Friday with a US award for his commitment to democracy, the latest honor for the Tibetan spiritual leader despite China's angry protests over his White House welcome.
One day after President Barack Obama met the exiled monk at the White House in defiance of Chinese warnings, the National Endowment for Democracy gave the Dalai Lama a medallion before a standing-room crowd at the Library of Congress.
The Endowment, which is funded by the US Congress, hailed the Dalai Lama for supporting a democratic government in exile and his willingness to even abolish his centuries-old spiritual position if Tibetans so choose.
"By demonstrating moral courage and self-assurance in the face of brute force and abusive insults, he has given hope against hope not just to his own people but also to oppressed people everywhere," Endowment president Carl Gershman said before placing the Democracy Service Medal on the monk's neck.
The Dalai Lama, who fled his Chinese-ruled homeland for India in 1959, voiced admiration for US and Indian democracy and said China's authoritarian system was unsustainable.
"The Chinese Communist Party, I think, did many wrong things. But at the same time, they also made a lot of contribution for a stronger China," he said.
The Dalai Lama pointed to the growing interest of many Chinese in getting rich. Calling himself a Marxist in his support for a strong social safety net, the Dalai Lama joked: "Sometimes I feel my brain is more red than those Chinese leaders."
"Sometimes I express now the time has come for the Communist Party should retire with grace," he said in English, laughing that Chinese leaders would be "furious" at his comments.
China earlier protested Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama, saying the United States had "seriously harmed" relations and summoning the US ambassador, Jon Huntsman.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the Dalai Lama's meetings with Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were part of a longstanding US dialogue with the Tibetan leader.
"I think on this issue, obviously we just agree to disagree," Crowley told reporters.