French president Nicolas Sarkozy has met the Dalai Lama in the Polish city of Gdansk, during a gathering of Nobel laureates.
The planned meeting angered Beijing, which has retaliated by cancelling a forthcoming China-EU summit in France.
China also warned that if Mr Sarkozy goes ahead to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader, multi-billion-dollar trade deals with France were in jeopardy.
After the meeting, Mr Sarkozy said: “The Dalai Lama confirmed what I already knew: that he will not demand independence for Tibet and I told him how important I thought it was to pursue dialogue with the Chinese authorities.”
“The Dalai Lama also told me of his concerns over Tibet.”
Sarkozy has become the only European head of state to meet the Dalai Lama while holding the EU’s rotating presidency.
Living in exile in India, the Dalai Lama has sought “meaningful autonomy“ for Tibet since he fled his homeland in 1959, following a failed uprising against Chinese rule, nine years after Chinese troops invaded the region.
On Friday, when asked in the northern Polish city whether he thought president Sarkozy might cancel the meeting with him, as he has already done twice, the Dalai Lama said: “Wait until tomorrow. I don’t know.”
‘Boycott French goods’
“China also needs Europe”, said the Dalai Lama, commenting on whether EU-China relations and trade could suffer over his planned meeting with Sarkozy.
“The original initiative of some pressure, sometimes is not followed by action”, he added.
Saying the planned meeting will be held, France has called for economic ties to be spared from retribution, especially during the financial crisis.
“We cannot have France’s conduct dictated to, even by our friends”, said Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister.
Chinese internet users, angry at the planned meeting, momentum has grown for a boycott of French products.
“I am using my real name to swear to the French: I am going to boycott French goods for my whole life. I will never use French brands or any product made in France”, said one internet poster, who identified himself as Yan Zhongjie.
On Thursday, Liu Jianchao, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said Mr Sarkozy’s proposed meeting with the Dalai Lama had caused “a lot of dissatisfaction” with the Chinese people. However he also called on the public to be “calm and rational”.
Even though there is a large French presence in China, with companies like hypermarket chain Carrefour, China has a trade surplus with the European nation and antagonising key partners during a global slowdown could be risky.
As a past recipient of the Nobel Peace prize, the Dalai Lama had been invited in Gdansk to ceremonies marking 25 years since Lech Walesa, Poland’s anti-communist solidarity icon, received the award.
On Saturday, Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, met the Dalai Lama in Gdansk.
The former union leader is regarded as a key figure in the peaceful collapse of communism in Poland in 1989. The same year the Dalai Lama, now 73, was awarded a Nobel Peace prize.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, attended Saturday’s ceremonies in Gdansk.
China has argued that the Dalai Lama is seeking full independence, which was called a “totally baseless” claim by the Dalai Lama on Friday.
“When China becomes more democratic, with freedom of speech, with rule of law and particularly with freedom of the press, … once China becomes an open, modern society, then the Tibet issue, I think within a few days, can be solved”, said the Dalai Lama on Friday.
On Thursday he addressed the European parliament in Brussels saying China lacked the moral authority to be a true superpower.
“The Dalai Lama will raise human rights issues and above all the very urgent situation of Tibet … where the situation nearly resembles that of martial law”, during the Saturday afternoon meeting with Sarkozy, the head of France’s Tibetan community Wangpo Bashi told radio France-Info Saturday.
He added that for Tibetans this meeting is “a very strong signal”.