China has cancelled a top-level bilateral meeting with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, the government in Bratislava said, in a move seen as a snub after the EU country’s president met the Dalai Lama. Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang met 16 counterparts from across central and eastern Europe in Lativa’s capital Riga Friday for talks focused mainly on developing trade. The Chinese leader had been scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with Fico Friday, who is also steering Slovakia’s six-month rotating presidency of the European Union until the end of December.
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“The Chinese side cancelled the bilateral meeting with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, scheduled ahead of today’s summit,” the Slovak government was quoted as saying by the local SITA newswire.
Leftist Fico moved quickly to mend fences with Beijing, telling reporters in Riga he had invited the Chinese Prime Minister to visit Slovakia.
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“I regret that instead of adding energy to further projects with China, we must repair the damage that has been inflicted,” said Fico, quoted by SITA.
He told reporters in October that President Andrej Kiska’s move to meet the Dalai Lama had “clearly damaged Slovak-Chinese relations”.
Kiska, a millionaire businessman and philanthropist turned liberal politician, met privately with the Tibetan spiritual leader on October 16 in Bratislava.
Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of supporting separatism and violence in Tibet, a region it has ruled since 1951.
The Dalai Lama fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959, but is still revered by many Tibetans in China and beyond.
The Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry vowed that Beijing would react against Slovakia for the meeting, criticising Kiska for ignoring China’s “strong opposition” to the move, which it insisted undermined Slovakia’s promise to support the “one-China” policy.
Bilateral trade relations between eurozone member Slovakia and China tallied at more than six billion euros ($6.7 billion) in annual turnover last year, according to the Slovak Economy Ministry.