Blair raises Tibet issue with Chinese leader

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair questioned China's Vice-President, Hu Jintao, over Beijing's policy in Tibet at a meeting in Downing Street yesterday.

The Prime Minister stopped short of meeting the demands of pro-Tibetan campaigners, who had urged him to ask the Chinese government to open unconditional negotiations about Tibet's future. But Mr Blair decided to raise the issue even though the West's overriding priority is to maintain China's support for the war on terror.

Downing Street said the Tibet issue had been "touched on" during 30-minutes of talks followed by lunch but was "not central to the discussions". Mr Blair's spokesman described the meeting as "very warm" and said there was "excellent personal chemistry" between the Prime Minister and Mr Hu, who is widely expected to be China's next president when Jiang Zemin steps down in 2003.

The talks were dominated by terrorism, with Mr Hu stressing China's support for the international campaign. The two men discussed the need for the future government in Afghanistan to be broad-based and representative and the need for the United Nations to play a strong role in the country.

Even though Mr Blair had raised the subject of Tibet, human rights campaigners outside Downing Street accused him of "harbouring terrorists" at Number 10 because Mr Hu had taken a hard line when he had been in charge of Tibet. To avoid the crowd of about 40 protesters, Mr Hu and his delegation were led into Downing Street through a side entrance via the Foreign Office.

In a letter to Mr Blair, the Free Tibet campaign urged him to press Mr Hu for a commitment to enter into negotiations with the Tibetan government in exile on the future status of their country.

Alison Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the campaign, said: "If the British Government does not now actively support a non-violent struggle for freedom like that of the Tibetans, a course acknowledged by the UN to be a just one, what sort of message does that send to terrorists? Tibetans must not be the political casualties of Chinese support for the coalition against terrorism."

Mr Hu also travelled on a Thames cruise boat from the Embankment to Greenwich, where he visited the Royal Observatory. A private Tube train was laid on for his journey back to Westminster on the Jubilee line. He met the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, at the House of Lords, and the Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Edward George.