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Czech envoy sensitive to China's Dalai Lama stance

January 17, 2009

BEIJING 2009-01-15 (AP) - The Czech Republic, which holds the EU presidency, considers the Dalai Lama a significant religious figure similar to the pope but also understands China's sensitivity over the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Czech ambassador said Thursday.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek met the Dalai Lama during his three-day visit to Prague at the end of last year in a meeting characterized by Topolanek's press office as «private.
The Dalai Lama is reviled by Beijing, which sees him as a backer of separatist activity in Tibet. China often expresses displeasure when world leaders meet with the exiled Tibetan leader. China pulled out of a China-EU summit last month because French President Nicolas Sarkozy had plans to meet the Dalai Lama in Poland in December. France held the rotating EU presidency last year.
European leaders like to meet the Dalai Lama because he «is a very respected and significant religious figure,» said Vitezslav Grepl, the Czech ambassador to China.
«They perceive him as a religious leader of great importance,» Grepl told a news conference, comparing the Dalai Lama to the pope.
But he said the Czech government understands that «this is an extremely sensitive matter for the Chinese nation and the Chinese government.
«So, in our acts during the presidency, we shall act accordingly to these feelings,» he said, without elaborating.
It was unclear if any senior Czech officials planned to meet with the Dalai Lama in the coming year, while the Czech Republic holds the EU presidency.
Grepl said he was summoned to the Chinese Foreign Ministry after the Czech prime minister's meeting with the Dalai Lama, but there were no political repercussions. «Since then, the issue was over,» he said.
China claims that the Himalayan region has always been part of its territory, while many Tibetans assert their land was virtually independent for centuries. The Dalai Lama says he wants «real autonomy» for Tibet, not independence.
Foreign Minister spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Thursday that China's relations with the European Union and the Czech Republic were good and that «China's policies of developing sound relations with the EU have not changed.
But she also repeated China's stance on Tibet and the Dalai Lama: «We always oppose any country's leaders meeting with Dalai in any forms ... We hope the international community and European countries can understand and respect China's position on this issue.
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