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China says Wen will visit Europe, signals ties on mend
AFP[Tuesday, January 20, 2009 23:39]
Beijing - China announced Tuesday that Premier Wen Jiabao would travel to Europe next week as it signalled it was ready to mend relations following a heated row last year over Tibet.

Wen will visit Switzerland, Germany, Spain and Britain, as well as the European Union's headquarters in Brussels, foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.

"Setbacks are not what we want to see," Jiang said as she announced the week-long visit beginning on January 27.

"We hope that the visit will further enhance mutual understanding and trust, expand strategic consensus, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation and promote the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership in the New Year."

Wen's visit will be the first since China postponed a planned summit with the European Union scheduled for December 1 in protest over French President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to meet Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

China opposes any foreign leaders meeting the Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of trying to seek independence from Chinese rule for his Himalayan homeland.

Other European leaders met the Dalai Lama during his tour of the continent in December, and he addressed the European Parliament, but it was Sarkozy's meeting that particularly incensed the Chinese leadership.

At the time, France held the rotating presidency of the EU.

Wen had been scheduled to attend the China-EU summit, which was meant to be held in the French city of Lyon.

After Sarkozy defied China's warnings and met the Dalai Lama in Poland on December 6, the Chinese foreign ministry warned the encounter had "caused serious harm to Sino-French bilateral relations".

"This erroneous French action grossly interferes in China's internal affairs and seriously hurts the feelings of China's people. The Chinese government expresses its resolute opposition and strong dissatisfaction," it said.

Highlighting the lingering problems, the EU's ambassador to China, Serge Abou, last week called for a quick end to the rift between China and France.

"In spite of the fact that there is no one single problem between the EU institutions and China... it's not very healthy that one important member state has a problem with China," Abou told reporters in Beijing.

"We wish that this situation will come back to normal as soon as possible."

In Switzerland, Wen will attend the annual Davos gathering of the world's political and corporate elite, Jiang said, adding the premier's trip was also part of China's efforts to combat the global economic crisis.

"We hope the visit can help the international community boost confidence, consolidate consensus... and work together to better tackle the financial crisis," Jiang said.

The official Xinhua news agency, citing diplomatic sources, said a business delegation would be accompanying Wen on his trip and a "number of deals and projects are expected to be signed."
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