Beijing raised the spectre of trade sanctions against France yesterday to threaten President Sarkozy's plan to meet the Dalai Lama. The coded warning came on the day that the Tibetan spiritual leader was fêted by the European Parliament.
China has already pulled out of this week's annual summit and business forum with the EU in protest at Mr Sarkozy's plans to see the 73-year-old Tibetan exile in Poland tomorrow at a celebration honouring Nobel Peace Prize winners.
In Brussels the Dalai Lama goaded China with the charge that it would never be seen as a superpower unless it improved its moral authority.
MEPs applauded his speech and raised the stakes further by demanding that the issue of Tibet feature on the agenda of future EU/China discussions.
China deserved to be a superpower, the Dalai Lama said, given its huge population and economic and military strength.
He added, however: “One important factor is moral authority and that is lacking. Because of its very poor record on human rights and religious freedom and freedom of expression and freedom of the press — too much censorship — the image of China in the field of moral authority is very, very poor.”
To the annoyance of Beijing the support of MEPs for the Tibetan leader was unequivocal. “It is our duty to help his holiness the 14th Dalai Lama so that his people have a good future,” said Hans-Gert Pöttering, the President of the European Parliament.
“I hope within the near future there will be a summit between the EU and China and of course that the issue of Tibet will be a part of that summit,” he added.
In Beijing a senior official warned France against “an impact on the long-term development of ties.” In the latest escalation of pressure on Mr Sarkozy to shun the Tibetan leader when both attend the 25th anniversary of Lech Walesa's Nobel Prize in Gdansk, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, issued a coded warning, saying that economic and trade links with France “rested on the basis of mutual benefit”.
He added that China hoped the French would “create positive conditions for developing overall China-French relations and not create an impact on long-term development of ties that would harm the interests of people from the two countries.
“[France] must give sincere consideration to the Chinese concerns and the position taken by China and take real action to improve China-French relations.” China has labelled the Dalai Lama's plans for his homeland “splittist” but the Dalai Lama insisted that he simply sought greater autonomy within the People's Republic of China, his so-called Middle Way.
In a pair of commentaries issued by the state-controlled Xinhua news agency, the Dalai Lama was accused of falsely representing Beijing's approach to Tibet.
“The Dalai Lama denies that the people of Tibet enjoy religious freedom, and uses the excuse of so-called ‘international standards' to demand constitutional revisions,” one commentary said. “These demands are doomed to failure.”