France, China agree to renew ties

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the G20 summit in a bid to improve ties after relations deteriorated following Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama in December.


AFP - France's President Nicolas Sarkozy is to meet his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in London on the sidelines of the G20 summit, officials said Wednesday, as both powers moved to heal a rift over Tibet.

A French diplomat initially said the meeting would take place on Wednesday as world leaders gathered in London, but government spokesman Luc Chatel later told reporters that the bilateral talks would more likely be held Thursday.

Separately, both the French and Chinese foreign ministries announced that Paris and Beijing had agreed to renew "high level contacts" and the countries' "strategic dialogue" at an appropriate time.

The Chinese have not yet confirmed that the leaders will meet.

Relations between China and France deteriorated sharply last year when Sarkozy decided to meet exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in Poland, as the latter toured Europe.

China opposes any government figure meeting the Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of seeking independence for Tibet after 58 years of Chinese rule. The Dalai Lama denies this, saying he wants only meaningful autonomy.

Ahead of the meeting, China voiced its anger by taking the unprecedented step of postponing a summit with the European Union that had been scheduled to be held in France on December 1.

France at the time held the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Since then, officials from both capitals have been working to improve relations, and on Wednesday were ready to issue simultaneous statements confirming the thaw.

"The two sides are willing to strengthen communication and consultation and jointly face the world financial crisis and other global challenges," the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.

"The two sides have decided to hold high-level contacts and a strategic dialogue at an appropriate time, promote bilateral cooperation in all spheres and promote the stable development of China-France relations."

France has long insisted that Sarkozy's decision to meet the Dalai Lama did not represent a change in its position on Tibet, and the foreign ministry statement underlined this.

"France fully understands the importance and sensitivity of the Tibet question and reaffirms its policy of there being only one China and that Tibet is an integral part of of Chinese territory," it said.

"In this spirit and in respect of the principle of non-interference, France denies having any support for Tibetan independence in any form," it added.

Franco-Chinese ties were already strained before the December meeting.

Chinese public opinion had been shocked when athletes carrying the Olympic torch through Paris on its way to last year's Beijing Olympics were harassed by pro-Tibetan protesters.

In February, temperatures rose again when China protested the auctioning in Paris of a pair of Chinese bronze relics looted by French and British forces during the Second Opium War in 1860.

As late as March 23, Beijing was playing down the chances of a bilateral meeting in London, but Paris later sent a high-level delegation including its parliamentary speaker and a former prime minister to patch up ties.

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