By Yann Le Guernigou and Gareth Jones
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) is welcomed by Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in Gdansk, December 6, 2008.
GDANSK, Poland - French President Nicolas Sarkozy defied China on Saturday by meeting the Dalai Lama and said Europe shared the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader's concerns over the situation in his homeland.
China called the meeting an "opportunistic, rash and short-sighted approach to handling the Tibet issue," despite Sarkozy saying he regarded Tibet as part of China and that there was no need to "dramatize" his encounter.
"The meeting went very well ... The Chinese authorities knew perfectly well this meeting would take place before the end of the year," Sarkozy told reporters after his talks, which lasted about 30 minutes.
China called off a summit with the European Union last Monday in protest against Sarkozy's plan to meet the Dalai Lama, branded by Beijing as a "splittist" for advocating self-determination for his mountain homeland.
On Saturday, China condemned the meeting. "This development is indeed an unwise move which not only hurts the feelings of the Chinese people, but also undermines Sino-French ties," its official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary.
"The French side ... took an opportunistic, rash and short-sighted approach to handling the Tibet issue."
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (C) and Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama meet in Gdansk December 6, 2008.
REUTERS/Eric Feferberg/Pool (POLAND)
Sarkozy said the Dalai Lama, who welcomed him by draping a 'kata' or traditional Tibetan white scarf on his shoulder, had said at the meeting that he does not seek independence for Tibet. "I told him how much importance I attach to the pursuit of dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities."
Asked about the situation in Tibet, Sarkozy said: "The Dalai Lama shared with me his worries, worries which are shared in Europe. We have had a wide discussion of this question." The Dalai Lama and other supporters of Tibetan self-rule say China is strangling the mountain region's cultural and religious traditions and subordinating Tibetans to an influx of Han Chinese migrants and investment, charges Beijing rejects.STAYING CALM
The two met in the Polish port of Gdansk where they joined 25th anniversary celebrations of Polish pro-democracy leader Lech Walesa's winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
Playing down any possible negative impact on Sino-French ties, Sarkozy said: "There is no need to dramatize things."
Beijing's unusually vocal criticism of Sarkozy's plan to meet the Dalai Lama is linked to the fact that Paris holds the European Union's rotating presidency, diplomats say.
In Paris, an official said there had been no sign yet of any Chinese boycott of French products. The EU is China's biggest trade partner and supermarket chain Carrefour employs tens of thousands of people in China and is the biggest purchaser of Chinese goods in France.
French companies were subjected to Chinese boycotts and demonstrations earlier this year after the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay was disrupted by anti-China protesters.
Earlier on Saturday, the Dalai Lama called for dialogue and compassion to solve the world's problems.
"Warfare failed to solve our problems in the last century, so this century should be a century of dialogue," he told delegates, including Walesa, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
The Dalai Lama, who met Tusk privately on Saturday, praised Polish courage in resisting past oppression.
The 73-year-old monk is a popular figure in Poland, where some see in his struggle with China's communist authorities echoes of their own battles under Walesa against Soviet-backed communist rule that ended in 1989.
The Dalai Lama fled into exile in 1959 after a failed insurrection against Chinese rule in Tibet, occupied by People's Liberation Army troops from 1950.(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Paris)
(Writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Elizabeth Piper)