China to Europe: #$#%&$@ !

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When Beijing wants to make a diplomatic point about issues that really  get it hot under the collar (Tibet, Taiwan, Falungong, “interference in China’s internal affairs etc) it isn’t exactly subtle. After announcing Wednesday that it was cancelling a summit meeting with the European Union scheduled for Monday, in diplomatic terms the equivalent of dropping a nuclear bomb, a Foreign Ministry spokesman hammered home the point the next day. Qin Gang said that the decision was ‘forced’ on Beijing by President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is scheduled to meet the Dalai Lama on December 6th. France currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. On these issues China has always been liable to go over the top and lately France has been bearing the brunt of its anger. It reacted almost as vehemently when Sarkozy said he might not attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics (though he was cordially welcomed when he did actually show up). And then of course there was the boycott of  and all things french after the disastrous leg of the Torch relay in Paris. As ever, Beijing is playing with fire by inciting nationalist sentiment. Nothing ugly happened the last time around before the Games, although foreigners in China were well advised to stay away from Carrefour supermarkets during the noisy demonstrations held outside some branches and there were some reports of scuffling. Some of that resentment against France still seems to be smouldering. My colleague Jessie Jiang says that when the first news of Sarkozy’s deciding to meet the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader came out about a week ago, some of her friends were already talking about boycotting French goods again.

December will soon be upon us and with it several opportunities for China to get even angrier. Apart from the Sarkozy meeting, the Dalai Lama visits Brussels for two days from December 4th when he will undoubtedly be feted by some European Parliamentarians. The Parliament will have another opportunity to thumb its nose at Chinese on the 17th, when it formally awards the Sakharov Prize for human rights work to jailed activist Hu Jia.