DIPLOMACY

China ready to mend ties if France moves first

Chinese assistant foreign minister Wu Hongbo said Beijing was ready to mend relations soured by the December meeting between the Dalai Lama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy so long as Paris made the first move.

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AFP - China said Thursday it was ready to mend ties with France following a deep row over Tibet, in its first conciliatory move since the dispute erupted last year.

"We are ready to work with France to improve our bilateral relations. This is in the interest of the two countries and their people," assistant foreign minister Wu Hongbo told reporters.

"France is a great country, French people are great people."

But Wu insisted it was up to the French government to take the first step towards mending ties, saying China was not to blame for the current rift between the two countries.

"We very much hope that there will be an improvement in bilateral relations, however, as the Chinese saying goes, the one who tied the knot should be the one who unties it," Wu said.

"As the one who tied the knot, France, I believe, is clear about what needs to be done."

Relations between France and China suffered a major setback in December over President Nicolas Sarkozy's meeting with Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in Poland on December 6.

China opposes any foreign leaders meeting the Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of trying to seek independence from Chinese rule for his Himalayan homeland.

Angered by plans to hold the meeting, Beijing took the unprecedented step of postponing a summit with the European Union that had been scheduled for December 1.

At the time, France held the rotating presidency of the EU.

Wu was speaking at a briefing about Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Europe next week, during which he will visit Switzerland, Germany, Spain and Britain, as well as the European Union headquarters in Brussels.

Wen's visit will be the first since China postponed the summit.

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