EU leaders speak repeatedly of tying increasing Chinese investment in Africa to respect for human rights. But no such considerations come in the way of the EU’s own dealings with China. Within a couple of years China has become Europe’s most important economic partner. According to a July survey by the German Chamber of Trade and Industry, some 200,000 jobs in Germany depend on exports to China. Germany’s exports to China this year will amount to more $50 billion, 10% above 2007. By next year, China will be its main trading partner.

Chinese trade with France reached $18.3 billion in the first half of this year, and is headed for a 25% increase over last year. Germany and France are, not coincidentally, increasingly tolerant of autocratic Chinese moves, as evident from the treatment that the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, was given this summer in Paris and Berlin. The Dalai Lama spent almost two weeks in France this month. But, unlike on earlier visits to Paris, he did not get to meet any significant political leader, let alone President Sarkozy.

A handful of second-rank French parliamentarians met the Tibetan leader Aug. 13 at a closed-door session. Sarkozy’s wife, the pop singer Carla Bruni, attended a religious ceremony led by the Dalai Lama in the south of the country. Sarkozy, not known to skip a photo opportunity, said he did not meet the Dalai Lala in order to “respect the spiritual character” of the Tibetan leader’s visit to France.

But few doubt that the cool reception to the Dalai Lama was the direct consequence of very public Chinese pressure. Ahead of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Paris, Chinese ambassador Kong Quan emphatically urged Sarkozy not to meet the Tibetan leader. “If such a meeting took place, it would have serious consequences because it would be contrary to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs,” the ambassador told reporters in Paris. Sarkozy replied that it was not the Chinese government’s duty “to rule my agenda or to fix my appointments.” But when the time came, Sarkozy refused to meet the Dalai Lama. Instead, he went to Beijing for the Olympic Games.

“It is a pity that the French government rolls out the red carpet when (the Colombian politician) Ingrid Betancourt comes to Paris, but forces the Dalai Lama to come in through the back door,” Lionel Luca, member of the French parliament said.

After German Chancellor Angela Merkel met the Dalai Lama in Berlin in September 2007, Chinese minister for foreign affairs Yang Jiechi said Merkel had “offended” his people and “gambled away” Beijing’s trust. The Chinese government cancelled the annual human rights dialogue between Germany and China that was scheduled in Beijing in December 2007.

Merkel’s meeting with the Dalai Lama also led to tensions within the German coalition government. German minister for foreign affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier accused Merkel of trying to “showcase” human rights. Merkel is president of the Christian Democratic Union party; Steinmeier is a leading member of the Social Democratic Party, a coalition partner.

When the Dalai Lama came to Berlin in May this year, just weeks after the Chinese government had repressed demonstrations by Tibetan monks in Tibet, almost no German high-ranking official was available for a meeting. — IPS