Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama gestures during his visit in Prague, Czech Republic, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/David W Cerny(reuters_tickers)
PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech ministers and senior parliamentarians held a private meeting with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Tuesday, risking upsetting China just as the government is trying to boost ties with Beijing.
The Dalai Lama met Culture Minister Daniel Herman, Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Belobradek, and deputy speakers of both houses of parliament while on a trip to an annual conference set up by the late Vaclav Havel, the country's first president, who had close personal links with the 80-year old monk and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
The ministers as well as lower house Deputy Speaker Jan Bartosek and Senate Deputy Speaker Miluse Horska are all affiliated to the Christian Democrats, the junior partner in the centre-left ruling coalition, and the meetings were labelled as private.
The foreign ministry said in a statement that the government followed a policy of respecting China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and supported opening a dialogue between the authorities and the Tibetan community.
The Chinese embassy in Prague did not respond to a request for comment.
China usually scolds countries for giving any recognition to the Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of promoting independence for the Himalayan region. China's Foreign Ministry said on Monday, for example, that it would retaliate after Slovak President Andrej Kiska met the Dalai Lama.
The Czech government, and especially President Milos Zeman, has been warm to boosting ties with China. China was grateful for Zeman's attendance as the only western leader at a military parade in Beijing in 2015 marking the end of World War Two.
Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Prague in March to forge a "strategic partnership" with the Czech Republic.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Hugh Lawson)