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China scraps summit with EU over Dalai Lama visit

Video by Kate WILLIAMS

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-26

China, angry at plans for Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to visit Europe - including a promised meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy - has called off a summit with the European Union next Monday.

China has scrapped a summit with the European Union scheduled for next week in protest at EU leaders' plans to meet the Tibetan Dalai Lama during a visit to Europe, a statement said Wednesday.
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 days.
"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 December 1," the 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."
On November 14, 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 December 4.
The statement said the EU "takes note and regrets this decision by China."
The bloc said it 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."
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 improved.
"The Chinese are crazy. This decision is further proof that the whole EU strategy of going down on its knees before them ahead of the Olympic Games has spectacularly failed," said Greens European Parliament lawmaker Daniel Cohn-Bendit.
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 them".
And on the European side, he said, "there is total disunity over Tibet, and the Chinese are perfectly aware of this."

Date created : 2008-11-26