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China warns Sarkozy of fallout from Dalai Lama meeting

December 3, 2008

Tue Dec 2, 2008
 
BEIJING (Reuters) - China warned French President Nicolas Sarkozy to call off a planned meeting with the Dalai Lama, saying on Tuesday that it was up to Sarkozy to create the right conditions for putting China-EU relations back on track.
 
The French leader, who holds the rotating presidency of the European Union until the end of the year, has said he will meet the Dalai Lama in Poland on December 6.
 
China pulled out of a long-planned Monday summit with the EU over Sarkozy's scheduled meeting with the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, whom Beijing reviles for demanding self-determination for his mountain homeland.
 
There now seems little chance that Sarkozy will abandon the meeting. But a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman nonetheless pressed that demand, warning that the dispute was clouding broader ties with the EU, China's biggest trade partner.
 
"France is clear about China's principled stance and major concerns," the spokesman, Liu Jianchao, told a news conference in Beijing.
 
"Now is the time for the French side to make an important decision on this issue, and we hope it will make the important choice to create a healthy atmosphere and conditions for advancing Chinese relations with Europe and France."
 
The 73-year-old Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in the region, occupied by People's Liberation Army troops from 1950. Beijing appears to be stepping up pressure to discourage Western leaders from meeting him.
 
Sarkozy was the focus of Chinese public anger earlier in the year after he suggested that he may not attend the Beijing Olympic Games in August over concern about policy in Tibet, where China cracked down after riots and protests against its rule.
 
Chinese citizens called for boycotts of French companies and goods after disruption to the Olympic torch relay in Paris. And now Chinese officials appear to be seeking to calibrate their words to brandish their anger but avoid fanning renewed boycotts and protests.
 
Asked about renewed boycott calls that have spread on the Chinese internet, Liu said: "China places much importance in relations with Europe and France...We also hope the public at home will view calmly China's ties with Europe and France."
 
But Liu also obliquely warned that Sino-French relations could suffer damaging reverberations if Sarkozy goes ahead with the meeting.
 
"The facts show that when both sides' major concerns are respected, Sino-French relations can develop in a rapid, healthy and stable way," Liu said. "Otherwise, major problems can arise."
 
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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