BRUSSELS (AFP) – – China has postponed a summit with the European Union next week over a visit to Europe by the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, the EU said in a statement on Wednesday.
“They said their decision was due to the fact that the Dalai Lama will at the same time undertake a new visit in several countries of the Union and will meet on this occasion heads of state and government.”
On November 14, China hit out at French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s planned meeting with the Dalai Lama in Poland next month, warning it could hurt relations between the two countries.
France holds the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of next month.
The 73-year-old Buddhist leader is also due to visit the Czech Republic and Belgium, where he is scheduled to address the European Parliament in Brussels on December 4.
“The European Union, which set ambitious aims for the 11th European Union-China summit, takes note and regrets this decision by China,” the statement said.
The bloc said it planned to continue to “promote the strategic partnership it has with China, particularly at a time when the world economic and financial situation calls for close cooperation between Europe and China.”
The Dalai Lama and Sarkozy will both be attending ceremonies in Poland to mark the 25th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize to Lech Walesa, the anti-communist union activist who later became president.
The Buddhist leader was also awarded the prestigious prize in 1989.
No new date has been set for the summit, which was to be held in the eastern French city of Lyon. The meetings are usually held annually and alternate between a venue in China and Europe.
“The ball is in China’s court,” a spokeswoman for the EU’s French presidency said. “It took the responsibility of postponing this summit. The door remains open, as far as we are concerned.”
China and France went through a rough patch earlier this year when Sarkozy said his attendance at the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony was conditional on progress in talks between Beijing and Dalai Lama envoys on the future of Tibet.
He did attend the ceremony, and later declined to meet the Dalai Lama after Beijing warned that such direct contact would have serious consequences for bilateral relations.
Protesters also disrupted the passage of the Olympic flame in several cities — including Paris — following unrest in Tibet, which further damaged relations between China and France, although these have since improved.
The Dalai Lama has sought “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet since he fled his homeland following a failed uprising in 1959 against Chinese rule, nine years after Chinese troops invaded the region.
China claims he actually seeks full independence.