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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

China's thin skin

November 28, 2008

The Financial Times
November 27, 2008

The friend of your enemy is not necessarily your enemy. But China
seems to think it is. Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, currently
occupying the chair of the European Union, is due to meet the Dalai
Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader, in Poland on December 6. In
retaliation, the Chinese government has pulled out of a summit
meeting in Europe with just days to go. It is an unwise and
ill-considered step.

As recent economic developments have shown, China is intimately
connected to the rest of the world. Yesterday's sharp cut in interest
rates is a direct result of that interdependence. In the present
climate, the Chinese authorities must make more effort to build and
maintain their alliances.

Mr Sarkozy was entirely within his rights to ignore calls from
Beijing not to meet the Dalai Lama. The occasion is a meeting to
honour Poland's Lech Walesa, a Nobel prize winner like the Tibetan
leader. It is hardly a deliberate show of support by Mr Sarkozy for
the Tibetan campaign for greater autonomy.

Chinese sensitivity to meetings with the Tibetan leader is hard to
fathom. His peaceful "middle way" calls for protection for the
Tibetans' distinct culture, language and identity within the People's
Republic. His main source of political weakness among his own people
is his moderation and his unwillingness to consider more extreme
measures. He discourages violence.

This is a bad moment for China to be burning bridges. Beijing needs
to work to build stable alliances with its main strategic partners,
such as the EU. Pulling out of the summit with four days' notice will
not allay concerns about the human rights record of the world's
second-largest exporter. It could aggravate protectionism. Europe is
China's largest export market. Only this month Brussels increased
tariffs on citrus fruits and imposed new anti-dumping measures on
Chinese candles and certain industrial products.

As if further proof were needed of China's reliance on the rest of
the world, it has recently become a large importer of economic gloom.
The World Bank expects the Chinese economy to grow next year at a
mere 7.5 per cent - the slowest in two decades. Its vast planned
fiscal stimulus and yesterday's hefty 108 basis points interest rate
cut are both consequences of its dependence on a sickly world economy.

China's problem with Tibet is not the Dalai Lama. The greater threat
is the increasing appeal of active resistance in Tibet to Chinese
rule. A successful negotiation with him is the only way to ensure a
peaceful outcome to the stand-off. China should understand this.
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