Relations between China and Europe sank to a fresh low yesterday after Beijing stunned diplomats by cancelling a summit with the EU next week amid fury over French president Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to meet the Dalai Lama.
A senior EU official in Beijing said the Chinese suspended Monday's summit because they were angered by the president's public announcement that he would meet the exiled Tibetan leader next month when the two attend parallel meetings in Poland.
The decision to cancel the meeting, which would have discussed the financial crisis, reflects the considerable lengths Beijing is willing to go to in its effort to diplomatically isolate the Dalai Lama, a former winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The EU said it regretted China's decision to call off the summit, due to take place in the French city of Lyon. Chinese premier Wen Jiabao had been due to attend the meeting.
"The EU, which had set ambitious objectives for the 11th EU-China summit takes note and regrets China's decision. The EU will continue to promote a relationship of strategic partnership with China, particularly at a moment when the global economic and financial situation calls for very close co-operation between Europe and China."
Mr Sarkozy still intends to meet the Dalai Lama in Poland on December 6 at a ceremony bringing together former Nobel Peace prize winners, the French government spokesman said. The Dalai Lama is also due to visit the Czech Republic and Belgium, where he will address the European parliament on December 4.
Chinese anger over European leaders' willingness to meet the Dalai Lama has put severe strain on its relationships with several capitals, including London, Berlin and Paris.
There was no immediate comment from Beijing last night.