Europe-China Relations: From Bad to Worse

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So President Sarkozy of France (currently occupying the rotating presidency of the EU) met as expected with the Dalai Lama over the weekend. Beijing had already cancelled a China-Europe summit that was scheduled to start today in protest. Sarkozy was unapologetic, defending his right to meet anyone he wants. He also tried to strike a conciliatory note.

“I’ve always considered there is only one China, that Tibet is part of China, and the Dalai Lama himself does not call for independence for Tibet,” he was quoted as saying by wire services. “The world needs an open China that takes part in world governance. China needs a strong Europe that gives work to China’s business. We need to work together.”

I don’t think that effort to make peace is going to help much. Actually, I would be surprised if the Chinese government doesn’t take some other action to signal its extreme displeasure. In fact, they may have already done so. Although there’s no way of knowing if it was directly connected, the abrupt execution of medical researcher Wo Weihan on Friday despite numerous pleas for clemency may have been influenced by the ongoing souring of relations. Wo, who was accused of selling state secrets to Taiwan, had long time Austrian connections and both his daughters, who actively campaigned on his behalf, are Austrian citizens. (They had been promised they would see their father one more time and were shcoked to be told he had been executed). The fact that he execution came just as EU and Chinese officials were closing a meeting in Beijing on human rights could hardly be ignored either, particularly as China’s huge number of executions (anywhere from 5000 to 20,000 a year, depending on whose figures you believe) was one of the most important items on the discussion agenda.

Next chance for things to deteriorate is December 17th, when the European Parliament formally awards its annual human rights prize to jailed dissident Hu Jia. Maybe this time Beijing will cancel a few Airbus orders, which would probably have a greater impact than the summit.