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China cancels bilateral talks with Slovak prime minister

China has cancelled a top-level 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 Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Premier Li Keqiang met 16 of his counterparts from across central and eastern Europe in Latvia’s capital Riga on Saturday, for talks focused mainly on trade. Li had been scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with Fico, who is also steering Slovakia’s six-month rotating presidency of the EU until the end of December.

“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 on Saturday by the local SITA news wire. Fico moved quickly to mend fences with Beijing, telling reporters in Riga he had invited the Chinese premier to visit Slovakia.

“I regret that instead of adding energy to further projects with China, we must repair the damage that has been inflicted,” Fico said.

He told reporters in October that President Andrej Kiska’s move to meet the Dalai Lama had “clearly damaged Slovak-Chinese relations”.

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Kiska, a millionaire businessman turned 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 (西藏), 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 had vowed that Beijing would react against Slovakia for the meeting, criticising Kiska for ignoring China’s “strong opposition” to the move.