.- Contrary to earlier indications, Pope Benedict XVI will not be meeting with the Dalai Lama in December, Reuters reports.
An anonymous Vatican official told reporters in late October that the Pope would meet with the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism on December 13.
The report of a meeting caused the Chinese government to strongly protest, saying it would "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people." It urged the Pope to take action showing he "is sincere in improving relations."
Beijing considers the Dalai Lama a "splittist" who is working for an independent Tibet. Chinese officials have accused him of organizing anti-government activities in Tibet.
In New Delhi, a representative of the Dalai Lama said: "His Holiness's objective is to promote inter-religious harmony and he will not create any inconveniences for anybody."
The Dalai Lama met Pope Benedict last year in a low profile meeting that was reportedly strictly religious in nature.
Father Bernardo Cervellera, head of AsiaNews, a news agency that specializes in China, said he was disappointed that the encounter would not take place.
"It was clear from the start that Beijing was not happy about this meeting," he told Reuters.
Pope Benedict has made the improvement of ties with Beijing a major goal of his papacy, issuing his 55-page papal letter to the Church in China this past June.
Catholics in China are split between an underground church that is loyal only to the Pope and a state-recognized church whose leadership is cooperative with the Beijing government.
Past diplomatic setbacks included the appointment of bishops to the state-recognized church without papal approval. In May 2006 Pope Benedict also accused China of "grave violations of religious freedom."
Relations have improved recently. Two months ago the Vatican approved the installation of a bishop for the Diocese of Beijing in the state-approved church and three more episcopal appointments are slated for the coming months.