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French and Chinese Leaders Meet to End Tibet Friction

April 5, 2009

The New York Times
April 1, 2009

BEIJING -- President Nicolas Sarkozy of France
and President Hu Jintao of China met Wednesday
night in London before the Group of 20 summit
meeting after months of friction over China’s handling of Tibet.

Mr. Hu called the meeting "a new starting point" for bilateral relations.

An unusual joint statement issued Wednesday by
the foreign ministries of both countries said
that “France fully recognizes the importance and
sensitivity of the Tibet issue” and reaffirmed
“the position that Tibet is an integral part of
the Chinese territory.” It said that France
refused to support any claim of Tibetan
independence and that both countries adhered “to
the principle of noninterference in each other’s affairs.”

The statement said leaders had "decided to
conduct high-level contacts and new sessions in
their strategic dialogue at an opportune time.”

France went to some lengths to emphasize that its
position on Tibet in particular was not a shift
from its long-held policy. In the joint
statement, the two sides noted that what was
called the “one China policy” and the French view
of Tibet’s status had first been formulated by
Charles de Gaulle in the late 1950s and 1960s.

It said the French attitude "has not changed and will not change."

Nonetheless, the French authorities seemed to
have stepped back from their previous readiness
to antagonize the Chinese leadership as the world
confronts an economic crisis in which France can
ill afford poor relations with a global powerhouse.

Last year, Mr. Sarkozy’s support for the Dalai
Lama angered Chinese leaders. In response, China
postponed a meeting with European leaders that
France was supposed to host. At the time, France
held the rotating presidency of the European Union.

China strongly opposes any encounters between
foreign officials and the Dalai Lama, accusing
him of harboring separatist ambitions for Tibet, which he denies.

Chinese officials were also offended last year by
demonstrations in France as the Olympic torch for
the Beijing Games wended its way around the
world; the protesters in Paris focused in part on Tibet.

The statement did not directly refer to the Dalai Lama.

Sharon LaFraniere reported from Beijing, and Alan Cowell from Paris.

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