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19th Jan 2020

Chinese postpone EU summit over Dalai Lama row

The Chinese government has postponed a summit with the European Union due to take place next Monday as a result of the Tibetan spiritual leader's scheduled visit to EU capitals and meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"The European Union, which set ambitious aims for the eleventh EU-China summit, takes note and regrets this decision by China," an EU council statement released on Wednesday said.

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  • Chinese president Hu Jibao could not accept his French counterpart meeting the Tibetan spiritual leader. (Photo: Dutch EU Presidency)

Explaining their decision in a communiqué, the Chinese authorities said: "At the same time [as the planned summit,] the Dalai Lama would be paying a fresh visit to several EU countries and would meet heads of state and government of EU member states, as well as heads of European institutions."

In particular, the Chinese seemed to have been angered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's scheduled meeting with the Dalai Lama on 6 December in the Polish city of Gdansk, during a ceremony with several other Nobel Peace Prize winners.

The Tibetan leader was also scheduled to visit the European Parliament in Brussels and Prague, which will take over the six-month rotating EU presidency on 1 January.

China has always opposed the Dalai Lama meeting foreign leaders, as it considers him a "secessionist" for pleading for Tibet's autonomy.

Yet Mr Sarkozy will go ahead with his plans to meet the Dalai Lama, as he was "free to decide his own agenda", French government spokesperson Luc Chatel told Reuters on Wednesday.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was set to attend the summit in Lyon on 1 December. He told the French EU presidency on Wednesday (27 November) morning he would not come, a move that came by surprise to the French diplomats, who were working on a common declaration on the economic crisis and on climate change in the context of the upcoming Poznan conference, Marine de Carne, spokesperson for the French mission to the EU told EUobserver.

But the EU would "continue to talk" with China, she added. "It is the responsibility of the Chinese now" how things would go from here, she said.

"The full responsibility of the postponement of this summit is not on our side," Ginny Bai, head of the press office in the Chinese mission to the EU told EUobserver.

"We are trying to continuously improve relations with the EU", she added. Ms Bai was not able to indicate another date for the EU-China summit.

An EU-China dialogue with EU commissioners and Chinese diplomats was scheduled to take place in Beijing on 28 November.

More EU involvement in the Tibetan issue

This "very radical decision" taken by the Chinese government proved that "the EU needs to involve itself more to resolve the Tibetan issue, because it now has an impact on EU-China relations," Vincent Metten, EU policy director of the International campaign for Tibet (ICT), a non-governmental advocacy group, told EUobserver.

He expressed his hope that Mr Sarkozy would "use his position as president of the EU to engage with Chinese leaders" and try to convince them that the meeting with the Dalai Lama was not aimed against Beijing, but a proof that the French were "open to both sides".

The French president "should repeat that the Dalai Lama is not seeking independence, but real autonomy within China and he should engage and urge Hu Jintao to meet with the Dalai Lama himself," Mr Metten added.

According to Tibetan Buddhism, Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth and current Dalai Lama, is the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetans. He was forced to flee Lhasa, Tibet's capital, in 1959 after a failed uprising against the Chinese, who have occupied the mountainous region since 1950.

The issue escalated in the run up to the 2008 Olympics held in Beijing, with the flame being put out by pro-Tibetan protesters and the Chinese authorities cracking down on pro-Tibetan demonstrators.

The Dalai Lama said he supported the Beijing Olympics and opposed the protests that disrupted the Olympic torch relay around the world.

"The Chinese people really deserve to host the Olympic Games," he said in April, while also reiterating his calls for Tibet to become an autonomous region with its own defence and foreign affairs ministers

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