China postpones EU summit protesting Dalai Lama visit

27th November 2008, Comments 0 comments

The Chinese government has asked for the summit to be postponed because the exiled Tibetan leader is set to meet a number of European leaders in Poland.

Brussels -- China has postponed a summit with the European Union planned for Monday in protest of a visit by the Dalai Lama to Europe, diplomats in Brussels said Wednesday.

The Chinese government has asked for the summit to be postponed because the exiled Tibetan leader is set to meet a number of European leaders at a gathering of Nobel Peace Prize winners called by the founder of Poland's Solidarity trade union, Lech Walesa, an EU statement said.

The gathering in Gdansk, birthplace of Solidarity, is scheduled for Dec. 6 and is intended to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Walesa's winning the prize.

At the event, the Dalai Lama -- Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1989 -- was set to appear alongside EU leaders including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, current holder of the bloc's rotating presidency, and the head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.

Sarkozy's office confirmed that the Chinese government had asked for a postponement of the summit because of the meeting with the exiled Tibetan leader.

French daily Le Parisien said that the postponement came despite French assurances that the meeting with the Dalai Lama would be "an informal meeting and not a private one."

China has in the past clashed fiercely with EU member states over the question of the Dalai Lama, who is popular in Europe but whom Beijing sees as the leader of the Tibetan separatist movement.

In September 2007, the Chinese government reacted angrily to a meeting between the Tibetan leader and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, calling it an interference in Chinese internal affairs.

Such clashes have become an increasingly sensitive issue in recent years as China has become the EU's second most important trading partner, after the United States, and its single most important source of manufactured imports.

The EU had "set ambitious objectives" for the summit, planned for the French city of Lyon, and "regrets" the Chinese decision, the EU statement said.

The 27-member bloc "intends to continue promoting its strategic partnership with China, especially in a moment when the global financial and economic situation calls for very close cooperation between Europe and China," it said.

Some Europeans were quick to condemn China's move.

The call for a postponement amounts to "bully-boy tactics of trying to dictate whom European leaders can and cannot meet ... European leaders urgently need to show China that (the EU) cannot be divided and bullied," John Fox, senior policy fellow at think-tank the European Council on Foreign Relations in London, said.

Francois Godement, head of the ECFR Asia centre in Paris, added, "In blaming Nicolas Sarkozy's upcoming meeting with the Dalai Lama, China takes its policy of routinely canceling human rights dialogues with European officials to the highest political level" and called it an "aggressive" action.


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