THE European Union and China have held summit meetings once a year for the last ten years but this year's meeting, scheduled for tomorrow, will not be held. It has been called off at undiplomatically short notice by the Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao. The reason given by the Chinese government is that the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was to be host of the summit, will be meeting the Dalai Lama at a gathering of Nobel Prize winners in Poland later next week. Even allowing for China's hostility to the Dalai Lama that reason given for the cancellation seems far-fetched; Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel have met the Dalai Lama this year. It is much more likely that Beijing wanted to snub President Sarkozy for a series of incidents in which, as President of the European Union, he has not shown proper diplomatic respect to China.

These range from his initial refusal to attend the Olympic Games, the personal welcome that he and his wife gave to the Dalai Lama during a visit to France, and the rough reception that the Olympic torch bearers received in the streets of Paris. A further irritant may have been the recent decision of the European Parliament to award its principal human rights award to the Chinese dissident Hu Jia.

The summit's agenda included many important matters relating to the current international financial crisis and its cancellation is a blow to Sarkozy's ambition to be seen as a leading international negotiator. It is perhaps also an indication of how little importance Beijing attaches to the EU.


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