Spain fears China crisis over Tibet court case

Diplomats hoping arrest warrants will not harm business relations

An unforeseen diplomatic conflict has blown up in the hands of Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo. Even worse, it involves the country that Madrid views as the new El Dorado for Spanish companies: China, the world's second economic power.

The Spanish High Court's decision on Tuesday to issue an arrest warrant for former President Jiang Zemin, 87, and other Chinese Communist Party members, over human rights abuses in Tibet has Beijing authorities in a rage. Since the warrant has been issued through Interpol, it means that Zemin, former Prime Minister Li Peng and others could be arrested if they leave China.

On Wednesday, China's foreign minister called in the Spanish ambassador, Manuel Valencia, to express his government's "great discontent." Minister Hong Lei said: "We hope the relevant parties in Spain take China's concern seriously and do nothing to hurt this country or relations between China and Spain."

Spain is taking the thinly veiled threat seriously: Margallo called an emergency meeting at the ministry on Thursday, and the matter was expected to be up for discussion at Friday's Cabinet meeting. Meanwhile, the director general for Asian affairs at the Foreign Ministry, Ernesto Zulueta, met with the Chinese Embassy's business attaché to convey that the executive cannot interfere in judicial decisions. "But they didn't seem very convinced," diplomatic sources admitted.

The investigation derives from a 2006 lawsuit brought by human rights organizations and Sherpa Thubten Wangchen, a Spanish national, over China's attempt at "eliminating the idiosyncrasy and existence of [...] Tibet itself."

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