European leaders need to follow France and Poland's example and take a tougher line on China, with real political threats, if the situation in Tibet does not improve.

European leaders need to follow France and Poland's example and take a tougher line on China with real political threats (such as an Olympic boycott) if the situation in Tibet does not improve.

As EU Foreign Ministers meet in Slovenia for their regular informal discussion of world affairs, momentum is gathering for a tougher EU line towards China over Tibet.

President Sarkozy, the first EU leader to say that he had not ruled out a boycott of the Olympics, has been discussing policy towards China with Gordon Brown in London this week. Brown has of course already said that he will meet the Dalai Lama when he visits London in May. And Donald Tusk, the Prime Minister of Poland, has now said that he is going to boycott the Olympics opening ceremony.

But what is a proportionate response from the EU to the Chinese Government's handling of the protests and large scale detentions and other activities going on behind the media blackout in Tibet and the neighbouring regions?

The initial EU response was certainly weakand only served to embolden the Chinese Government. Javier Solana's statement that he "intended to be at the Olympics" was the wrong message to be sending to the Chinese authorities after they had potentially just killed up to 100 protestors. 

The EU's objectives on Tibet are: to prevent a repeat of violence from both sides; to prevent large scale detentions of Tibetans by the Chinese authorities and retribution including torture and executions; to get unrestricted media and international observer access toTibet; and for the Chinese Government to engage in real dialogue with the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Government in exile on a lasting solution.

To do this the EU needs a more critical approach towards China which contains real political threats. EU leaders need to make clear to the Chinese Government that they are prepared to boycott Olympic ceremonies and to consider a broader boycott of the games if necessary. The EU should be prepared to suspend dialogues and cooperation activities with China and cancel planned visits. This is a language which China understands and regularly uses against the EU over Tibet, Taiwan and human rights issues. 

The EU also needs to challenge what the Chinese Government is saying in public. Gordon Brown is right to see the Dalai Lama when he visits - other EU leaders should too, to challenge China's ridiculous attempts to portray him as a terrorist and to sideline him. EU leaders should challenge China's insistence that this is an internal issue - protests are worldwide and EU publics demand that their leaders intervene. The EU should also challenge China's closing down of Tibet, demanding that international observers and media be let in.

EU Foreign Ministers need to have a hard discussion at Gymnich this weekend. The next few months are only going to see protests and pressure increase. The EU needs to be ready to respond: to tread the fine line between pushing China away whilst using the intense attention on it to get real progress on Tibet.

This article was first published in the EU Observer.

Read more on: ECFR Council, Asia, Human Rights

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.