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Tensions over Dalai Lama cloud EU-China summit

May 21, 2009

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
May 20, 2009

PRAGUE (AFP) -- EU and Chinese leaders are to
tackle the economic crisis at a summit on
Wednesday, but lingering tensions over Tibet's
exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama cast a shadow over the Prague meeting.

The summit was originally set for last December
but China called it off in protest at a meeting
between the Dalai Lama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Poland.

France at the time held the rotating presidency
of the 27-nation European Union before handing
the baton over to the Czech Republic at the start of the year.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus will host Chinese
Premier Wen Jiabao at Prague Castle along with
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso
and the bloc's foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Although relations between China and the EU have
warmed since the December summit was cancelled,
the issue of the Dalai Lama remains a sore point,
especially since he is due to make a new European tour in the coming weeks.

On the eve of the summit, Chinese foreign
ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu further warned that
the Dalai Lama was a sensitive issue for Beijing.

"The true purpose of the Dalai in visiting other
countries is to promote Tibetan independence and
destroy the friendly relations between China and relevant countries," Ma said.

"The Chinese government firmly opposes the Dalai
Lama's engagement in separatist activities in any
country under whatever capacity," he said.

Eager to turn the page on tensions, the two sides
are to focus on less conflictual issues such as
the economic crisis and climate change, although
those subjects are not without their sore points too.

"China is a crucial partner in international
efforts to counter global challenges, such as the
economic and financial crisis and climate
change," Barroso said ahead of the summit

Concretely, the two sides are to sign
partnerships on science and technology, clean
energy and cooperation on small- and mid-sized companies.

At high-level talks in Brussels earlier this
month, EU commissioners and a Chinese delegation
headed by Vice Premier Wang Qishan agreed that
trade and investment would lead the way to economic recovery.

Two-way trade has exploded in recent years making
the European Union the top destination worldwide
for exports of Chinese goods while China is
Europe's biggest trade partner after the United States.

Last year they traded 326 billion euros (441
billion dollars) in goods with Europe running a
169.4 billion euros deficit with China.

However, the Chinese are eager to see Europe take
a softer line on anti-dumping while the Europeans
are frustrated that their companies face numerous
barriers to doing business in China.

"This has the potential for future friction if it
is not dealt with," warned senior European
Commission trade official David O'Sullivan at a
conference on the eve of the summit.

The European side is also to lean on China to
make ambitious commitments to cut greenhouse
gases in view of a key international summit in Copenhagen in December.

"It's about putting pressure on Wen, telling him
directly how important it is for us," one EU official said.

However, Beijing has in the past stressed that it
is already doing a lot to keep its carbon dioxide
emissions down, insisting instead that it is up
to rich, developed countries to reduce their pollution levels.

Human Rights Watch called on European leaders to
press China to respect its international human
rights obligations, and not focus solely on business issues at the summit.

"The EU would be mistaken to let business and
trade interests trump human rights," said Sophie
Richardson, HRW's Asia advocacy director, in a
statement. "Without the rule of law and respect
for fundamental rights China simply cannot become a better partner for the EU."
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