China scraps EU summit over Dalai Lama visit

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China is calling off a summit with the EU due to Sarkozy's scheduled meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader.

27 November 2008

BRUSSELS – China scrapped Wednesday a summit with the European Union
scheduled for next week in protest at plans by EU leaders to meet
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

The spectacular diplomatic snub appeared to target French President
Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency
until the end of the year, who is due to meet the Dalai Lama in 10

"The Chinese authorities have informed the European Union of their
decision to request the postponement of the 11th European Union-China
summit, scheduled to take place on 1 December," an EU statement said.

"They said their decision was due to the fact that the Dalai Lama will
at the same time undertake a new visit in several countries of the
Union and will meet on this occasion heads of state and government."

China's official Xinhua news agency, quoting foreign ministry
spokesman Qin Gang, said the decision was taken because the summit
could not achieve its expected goals.

The spokesman said the Chinese government and people were extremely
unhappy at Sarkozy's plan to meet the exiled Tibetan spiritual after
the China-EU summit.

"The Tibet issue is related to China's sovereignty and territorial
integrity and it touches China's interests at the core. We firmly
oppose the Dalai Lama's separatist activities in foreign countries
with any capacity, and firmly oppose the contact between foreign
leaders with him in any form," Qin said.

On 14 November, China hit out at Sarkozy's planned meeting with the
Tibetan spiritual leader in Poland on December 6, warning that it
could hurt relations between the two countries.

The 73-year-old Buddhist leader is also due to visit the Czech
Republic and Belgium, where he is scheduled to address the European
Parliament in Brussels on 4 December.

The EU statement said the bloc "takes note and regrets this decision by China".

It said the EU planned to continue to "promote the strategic
partnership it has with China, particularly at a time when the world
economic and financial situation calls for close cooperation between
Europe and China."

Xinhua quoted Qin as saying that in a bid to maintain good relations
with France and the EU, China had told France many times to handle the
Tibet issue properly in order to create the necessary conditions for
the summit.

But Qin said France, which holds the EU's rotating presidency until
the end of the year, had not actively responded to China's efforts to
maintain ties with France and the EU, according to Xinhua.

The Dalai Lama and Sarkozy are to attend ceremonies in Poland to mark
the 25th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize to Lech
Walesa, the anti-communist union activist who became Polish president.

The Buddhist leader was also awarded the prestigious prize in 1989.

No new date has been set for the summit, which was to be held in the
eastern French city of Lyon. The meetings usually take place annually
and alternate between a venue in China and Europe.

A French government spokesman said in reaction to Beijing's snub that
Sarkozy "is free to plan his own agenda".

A spokeswoman for the French EU presidency said: "The ball is in
China's court. It took the responsibility of postponing this summit.
The door remains open, as far as we are concerned."

China and France went through a rough patch earlier this year when
Sarkozy said his attendance at the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony
was conditional on progress in talks between Beijing and Dalai Lama
envoys on the future of Tibet.

He did attend the ceremony, but later declined to meet the Dalai Lama
after Beijing warned that such direct contact would have serious
consequences for bilateral relations.

Protesters also disrupted the passage of the Olympic flame in several
cities - including Paris - following unrest in Tibet, which further
damaged relations between China and France, although these have since

The Dalai Lama has sought "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet since he
fled his homeland following a failed uprising in 1959 against Chinese
rule, nine years after Chinese troops invaded the region.

China claims he actually seeks full independence.

Francois Godement, an expert at the European Council on Foreign
Relations, said that the "spectacular" move showed that Beijing
"treats the Europeans like China's neighbours" by "putting pressure on

And on the European side, he said: "there is total disunity over
Tibet, and the Chinese are perfectly aware of this."

[AFP / Expatica]

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