Wednesday, April 1, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - China and France announced an agreement Wednesday to restore high-level contacts and promote cooperation following a lengthy spat over Tibet sparked by the French president’s meeting with the Dalai Lama.

France pledged not to support Tibetan independence in “any form” as part of the agreement, according to a news release posted on the Chinese foreign ministry’s Web site and a similar statement from the French government.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chinese President Hu Jintao planned to meet in London late Wednesday, after a dinner for leaders of the Group of 20 nations, Sarkozy’s office said. The two last met in August, on the margins of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games.

China suspended many contacts and called off a major summit with the European Union in rage over a December meeting in Poland between Sarkozy and Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama.

Trade ties also suffered during the feud, with major Chinese purchasing and investment missions to Europe this year bypassing France entirely.

Beijing regards the 73-year-old Nobel laureate as a separatist seeking independence for his Himalayan homeland. The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 amid a failed anti-Chinese uprising, says he wants substantial autonomy for Tibet but under Chinese rule.

The agreement comes shortly before this weekend’s G-20 financial crisis meeting in London to be attended by both Sarkozy and Hu.

In Paris, the French government spokesman Luc Chatel said Sarkozy would meet the Chinese leader in London, probably on Thursday.

The last meeting between the two heads of state was in August 2008 on the margins of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the agreement signified a pledge by France not to allow future meetings between its high-level officials and the Dalai Lama.

France and other nations that have hosted the Dalai Lama _ and felt Beijing’s wrath as a result _ have repeatedly said they consider Tibet a part of China, but have called on Beijing to open meaningful dialogue with the exiles. Beijing has held several rounds of exchanges with representatives of the Dalai Lama’s self-proclaimed India-based government-in-exile with no apparent outcome.

“Both sides feel that, against the background of the profound changes in the international political and economic situation, China and France, as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, bear an important responsibility in the areas of ensuring global peace and advancing development,” the statement said.

It said France “fully realized the importance and sensitivity of the Tibet question and reaffirms its adherence to the one China policy and that Tibet is an indivisible part of Chinese territory.”

“In this spirit, and based on the principle of noninterference in domestic affairs, France refuses to support any form of ‘Tibet independence,’” the statement said.

It said the sides had “decided to hold, at an appropriate time, high level contacts as well as new sessions of strategic dialogue between the two countries to promote bilateral cooperation in various domains and assure the harmonious and stable development of French-Chinese relations.”

China’s ruling Communist Party, whose forces entered Tibet in 1950, insists Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries and angrily denounces claims by some Tibetans that they were effectively independent for much of that time.

Beijing’s hard-line stance on the Dalai Lama has grown considerably tougher in recent years. Ties with Germany nose-dived after Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the Dalai Lama in September 2007, recovering only after Berlin offered a pledge similar to that made by France on Wednesday.

Companies alleged to have supported the exiles’ activities have been subjected to smear campaigns and boycott calls in China, and an appearance in mainland China by the British rock group Oasis was axed by Beijing last month because guitarist and chief songwriter Noel Gallagher once took part in a free Tibet concert _ in 1997.

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