French President Nicolas Sarkozy defied China on Saturday by meeting the Dalai Lama and said Europe shared the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader’s concerns over the situation in his homeland.
China called the meeting an “opportunistic, rash and short-sighted approach to handling the Tibet issue,” despite Sarkozy saying he regarded Tibet as part of China and that there was no need to “dramatize” the encounter.
“The meeting went very well ... The Chinese authorities knew perfectly well this meeting would take place before the end of the year,” Sarkozy told reporters after the 30-minute talk.
China called off a summit with the EU last Monday in protest against Sarkozy’s plan to meet the Dalai Lama, branded by Beijing as a “splittist” for advocating self-determination for his mountain homeland.
On Saturday, China condemned the meeting.
“This development is indeed an unwise move which not only hurts the feelings of the Chinese people, but also undermines Sino-French ties,” the Xinhua news agency said in a commentary. “The French side ... took an opportunistic, rash and short-sighted approach to handling the Tibet issue.”
Sarkozy said the Dalai Lama, who welcomed him by draping a kata or traditional Tibetan white scarf on his shoulder, had said at the meeting that he does not seek independence for Tibet.
“I told him how much importance I attach to the pursuit of dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities,” he said.
The two met in the Polish port of Gdansk where they joined 25th anniversary celebrations of Polish pro-democracy leader Lech Walesa’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
Playing down any possible negative impact on Sino-French ties, Sarkozy said: “There is no need to dramatize things.”
Beijing’s vocal criticism of Sarkozy’s plan to meet the Dalai Lama is linked to the fact that Paris holds the EU’s rotating presidency, diplomats say.
In Paris, an official said there had been no sign yet of any Chinese boycott of French products. The EU is China’s biggest trade partner and supermarket chain Carrefour employs tens of thousands of people in China.
Sarkozy said he was “free” to talk to whoever he wants.
“I am free as the French president and the EU president, I have values and convictions. Let’s not make things tense, the world doesn’t need it and it doesn’t correspond to reality,” he said.
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