REUTERS - Chinese state media on Sunday blasted French President Nicolas Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama as an "unwise move" that undermines attempts to repair relations with Beijing.
Sarkozy, who also holds the rotating EU presidency, met the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader in Poland, risking a new flare-up after mass demonstrations picketing French stores earlier this year.
"This development is indeed an unwise move which not only hurts the feelings of the Chinese people, but also undermines Sino-French ties," said a commentary by the official Xinhua news agency.
Sarkozy is the only European head of state to meet the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing accuses of seeking independence for his Chinese-controlled Himalayan homeland, while holding the EU presidency.
China's foreign ministry declined to issue an immediate response to the meeting when contacted by AFP on Sunday.
However, the talks at a gathering of Nobel Peace Prize laureates were preceded by repeated Chinese warnings that Sino-French ties, including their burgeoning trade relationship, could be harmed.
"The Chinese government and people... stand firmly against any foreign leader's contact with (the Dalai Lama) in any form," Xinhua said.
"The French side, however, in total disregard of China's grave concern and the general situation of Sino-French relations, took an opportunistic, rash and short-sighted approach to handling the Tibet issue."
After the meeting, Sarkozy took pains to play down any split with China and stressed he was "free" to talk to whoever he wants.
"The Dalai Lama confirmed what I already knew, that he will not demand independence for Tibet and I told him how important I thought it was to pursue dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Chinese authorities," he said.
He added: "I am free as the French president and the EU president, I have values and convictions. Let's not make things tense, the world doesn't need it and it doesn't correspond to reality."
Beijing had already shown its anger by scrapping a China-EU summit. Xinhua said the meeting had "also obstructed the process of dialogue, exchange and cooperation between China and the EU."
It has been a rocky year in Sino-French ties.
Weeks of anti-France demonstrations, targeting French commercial symbols such as retail giant Carrefour, erupted in China in April after pro-Tibet activists disrupted the Paris leg of the Beijing Olympic torch relay.
While calling for calm in the current row, Beijing has warned of mounting anger among Chinese consumers.
Internet forums, often the only form of public expression for Chinese, have been awash recently with anti-French comments.
One such entry Sunday on the popular Tianya forum called Sarkozy "France's criminal and history's idiot."
"Such a provocation has a price. Boycott French goods!" it said.
Normally, China's communist rulers swiftly block online expressions they do not like, but they have allowed the current criticisms to persist for days.
The Dalai Lama insists he wants only "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet. He has lived in exile in India since fleeing his homeland after a failed uprising in 1959 against Chinese rule, nine years after Chinese troops invaded the region.