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China urges better ties with EU, still angry with France

January 13, 2009

BEIJING, Tue Jan 13, 2009 (Reuters) - China hopes ties with Europe will improve now the Czech Republic holds the European Union presidency, but France remains out of favour with Beijing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
 
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is scheduled to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which opens later this month, giving him an chance to patch up with European leaders.
 
Beijing abruptly cancelled a China-EU summit late in 2008, angry over French President Nicolas Sarkozy's meeting with the exiled Dalai Lama, whom Beijing condemns as a separatist.
 
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu would not confirm that Wen would attend Davos. But she said her government wanted warmer ties with Europe now that the Czech Republic had replaced France in the six-month rotating EU presidency.
 
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi spoke over the phone with the Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg a few days ago and "both reached a good understanding on further strengthening China-EU relations", said Jiang.
 
"We hope to work with Europe on handling and steering relations from a high strategic and long-term vantage point," she added.
 
Beijing and Brussels are also at loggerheads over trade and broader human rights issues and Jiang's upbeat words may not make much headway while Prague also grapples with the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute and the fighting in Gaza.
 
Jiang also said that Sarkozy's meeting in December with the Dalai Lama had badly bruised China's relations with one of Europe's dominant powers.
 
"The key to what step Sino-French relations take lies with France," she said, calling for Paris to take "practical actions to correct its wrong approach to Tibetan issues".
 
Beijing reviles the Dalai Lama for demanding self-determination for his homeland and disapproves of his meetings with foreign, especially Western, politicians. The Dalai Lama says he wants autonomy for Tibet, but not outright independence.
 
Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama, while France held the EU presidency, had "seriously damaged the political basis of Sino-French relations", Jiang said. (Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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