China protested strongly to France against President Nicolas Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama, summoning the French ambassador and calling the incident a "rude intervention" into Chinese affairs.
Although China routinely lodges protests when world leaders meet with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the complaint Sunday came as Beijing hardens its line toward the Himalayan region and steps up efforts to isolate the Dalai Lama internationally. Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama on Saturday privately in Gdansk, Poland, during celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of former Polish President Lech Walesa's Nobel Peace Prize. The Dalai Lama has also received the prize.
China demanded Sarkozy cancel the meeting several times over past weeks and called off a major China-EU summit earlier this month in protest. Sarkozy downplayed the furor, saying, "There's no need to dramatize things."
China's relations with the French have been especially testy over the issue of Tibet since April, when pro-Tibetan activists protested en masse in the streets of Paris as the Olympic flame passed through the city on its world tour. Some Chinese called for boycotts of French products afterward.
But on Sunday, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister He Yafei summoned the French ambassador to China, Herve Ladsous, "and lodged a strong protest," Xinhua said.
"It also severely undermined China's core interest, gravely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and sabotaged the political basis of China-France and China-EU relations," He said. In Paris, France's government minister for human rights said Sunday that it wasn't worth turning the tensions into a "psychodrama."
"I don't see what there is to debate about," Rama Yade said on France's RTL radio, noting that other world leaders have also met the Dalai Lama. "They should accept the situation." Yade predicted that relations would smooth out in the next few weeks. "We need to cooperate calmly," particularly toward finding solutions to the financial crisis, she said.
Chinese state television quoted He as saying the meeting was "a rude intervention in Chinese internal affairs and has hurt the feelings of Chinese people gravely."
France now must "correct its mistake with actual deeds to enable China-France relations to continue to be healthy and stable and advance forward," He said.
The indefinite postponement of the China-EU summit is likely to hit French and EU companies companies hard, an expert was quoted as saying Monday in the China Daily newspaper.
Trade retaliation is one of the most potent weapons in China's arsenal, and China's decision to postpone the summit has frustrated European business leaders. More than 150 Chinese business executives had been expected to meet with European counterparts on the sidelines of the meeting.
"The delegates were supposed to purchase goods worth 10 billion euros ($13 billion). So the delay of the summit also means a delay in these deals," said Wang Zhaohui, a French studies expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. China says Tibet has been part of its territory for more than seven centuries and denounces the Dalai Lama as a separatist who seeks to end Chinese rule of the Himalayan region. Many Tibetans say they were effectively an independent country for most of that time. The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He has lived in exile in Dharmsala, India, since fleeing Tibet amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. A self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile also is based in the northern Indian city. The Dalai Lama remains deeply revered among Tibetans, despite Beijing's relentless attempts to vilify him.