Page last updated at 13:24 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Tibet row puts off China-EU talks

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama, now a Nobel peace laureate, fled Tibet in 1959

China has postponed a summit with the EU - planned for 1 December - because of European contacts with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

EU diplomats say China has been angered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to meet the Dalai Lama. France holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Mr Sarkozy has said he will meet the Dalai Lama in Poland on 6 December.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said "we oppose any foreign leaders having any contact with the Dalai".

The spokesman, Qin Gang, was speaking to reporters in Beijing on Tuesday. The Chinese government has previously said Mr Sarkozy risks losing "hard-won" gains in ties with Beijing if he meets the Dalai Lama.

China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was set to attend the summit in Lyons next Monday.

An EU statement on Wednesday said "the European Union, which set ambitious aims for the 11th EU-China summit, takes note and regrets this decision by China [to postpone it]".

It said the Chinese authorities explained their decision by pointing out that "at the same time the Dalai Lama would be paying a fresh visit to several EU countries and would meet heads of state and government of EU member states, as well as heads of European institutions".

The EU plans 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 co-operation between Europe and China", the EU statement added.

Territorial dispute

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, after Chinese troops had crushed an uprising by pro-independence Tibetans.

Beijing says Tibet has been part of the Chinese nation since the 13th Century.

Many Tibetans disagree, pointing out that the Himalayan region was an independent kingdom for many centuries, and that Chinese rule over Tibet has not been constant.

Mr Sarkozy has said he plans to meet the Dalai Lama in the city of Gdansk on 6 December, where Poland will mark the 25th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Lech Walesa, who led the anti-communist Solidarity union in the 1980s.

A French diplomat confirmed that Mr Sarkozy still intended to meet the Dalai Lama in Poland next week, the BBC's Oana Lungescu reports from Brussels.

During a trip to France this summer, the Dalai Lama met Mr Sarkozy's wife Carla Bruni and the foreign minister Bernard Kouchner.

Earlier this year the EU voiced serious concern about a crackdown by Chinese authorities on Tibetan protesters.

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