On a visit to Washington, the Dalai Lama presented an award to novelist Wang Lixiong, who helped spearhead a petition by 308 prominent Chinese who last year questioned Beijing's crackdown on protests in Tibet.
China has tried to isolate the Dalai Lama, pressing nations including the United States to publicly shun him. Organizers did not announce Wang's attendance before the ceremony, saying it could put him at personal risk.
At a theater in Washington's Chinatown, Wang greeted the Dalai Lama by folding his hands in a traditional Tibetan greeting. The two men exchanged a lengthy embrace as the Tibetan leader draped him with a ceremonial white scarf.
Wang, who is married to leading Tibetan poet Woeser, told the crowd that the petition signers rejected official allegations they were "anti-China."
"We are the opposite, we dearly love China," said Wang, wearing a Chinese tunic.
The Dalai Lama (L) bows to Chinese writer Wang Lixiong who was honored with the Light of Truth Award during a ceremony in Washington October 7, 2009. The award honors people and organizations who have made significant contributions to the public understanding of Tibet and the fight for human rights, according to the official website of the International Campaign for Tibet. (REUTERS/Richard Clement)
"But loving China does not amount to loving the government. Daring to criticize the government is done for the good of China, but a government that cannot accept criticism can only bring harm to China," he said to a standing ovation.
China's "fake propaganda and information blackouts," he said, prevented most Chinese from understanding that the Dalai Lama was seeking a non-violent "Middle Way" of greater rights for Tibetans under Chinese rule.
"This is the major long-term obstacle to resolving the Tibet question," said Wang. "Removing this obstacle should be the mission of China's intellectuals, for there is no greater knowledge than the truth."
The writer also regretted recent violence between China's majority Han and the largely Muslim Uighur minority -- and issued a stark warning that ethnic trouble could "completely explode" if the nation moves to democracy.
"Totalitarianism uses suppression, whereas suppression is weakened by democracy," he said, stressing that China needed to "eradicate racial hatred."
He alluded to the risks for himself, voicing concern over Liu Xiaobo -- a prominent dissident who helped him on the petition and was later imprisoned as he led a separate campaign for democracy and human rights.
The Dalai Lama bows to William Taft, the husband of Julia Taft, who was posthumously honored with the Light of Truth Award during a ceremony in Washington October 7, 2009. The award honors people and organizations who have made significant contributions to the public understanding of Tibet and the fight for human rights, according to the official website of the International Campaign for Tibet. (REUTERS/Richard Clement)
The International Campaign for Tibet, which organizes the Light of Truth Award for contributions to the cause, said Woeser, another rare voice supporting Tibet in Beijing, was not allowed to travel to the United States.
The Dalai Lama, who has met Wang several times previously, praised the novelist as courageous and regretted that Chinese propaganda often describes "Tibetans, and particularly Dalai Lama, as a demon."
"Often the Chinese unfortunately describe these people as Western anti-Chinese forces," he said.
"No, certainly not," said the Dalai Lama. "I always say our supporters are not pro-Tibetan but pro-justice, pro-nonviolence."
Tibet last year witnessed the biggest protest in years in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics coinciding with the anniversary of a 1959 uprising that led the Dalai Lama to flee to India, where he has remained ever since.
China has said "rioters" were responsible for 21 deaths, while saying that its security forces killed only one "insurgent." But the Tibetan government in exile said more than 200 Tibetans were killed in the subsequent crackdown.
The Dalai Lama later toured a museum on China's human rights abuses run by exiled dissident Harry Wu and met key US senators, including John Kerry, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
But President Barack Obama will not see the spiritual leader, marking the first time in 18 years the Dalai Lama has visited Washington without a presidential meeting. The White House said Obama will meet him after visiting China next month.
Hollywood actor Richard Gere, who chairs the board of directors of the International Campaign for Tibet, saluted Wang and drew a contrast with Obama.
"I would just hope that our president had the courage and wisdom of the over 300 Chinese who wrote and signed that extraordinary document," Gere said.