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China, France tension lingers, despite Sarkozy letter

April 23, 2008

April 22, 2008

BEIJING (AFP) — China and France sought to patch up their differences
Tuesday amid anger over protests surrounding the Olympic torch relay but
a Paris city honour for the Dalai Lama threatened to scupper efforts.

The tension was underlined with the wheelchair-bound fencer Jin Jing
saying that French President Nicolas Sarkozy owed her an apology.

Jin has become a figure of national unity since she resisted protesters
who tried to grab the Olympic flame from her during its troubled journey
through Paris two weeks ago.

On a visit to Shanghai on Monday, French Senate President Christian
Poncelet passed on a letter from Sarkozy to the disabled athlete in
which he condemned the raucous demonstrations.

But Jin Tuesday expressed regret that Sarkozy did not formally apologise.

"(Sarkozy) expressed regret, shock and condemnation but no apology," Jin
was quoted by the Beijing News as saying.

She called the lack of an outright apology to the nation a "pity", the
newspaper said.

The Paris demonstrations, triggered in part by China's crackdown on
Tibetan unrest, have been followed by anti-French protests throughout
China in recent days.

Thousands of people have demonstrated outside branches of the French
retail chain Carrefour, and other French sites in Chinese cities since
Saturday, forcing at least one of Carrefour's 122 stores to close its
doors on Monday.

The demonstrators were angered by claims -- denied by Carrefour -- that
it supports the Dalai Lama.

The decision to make the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader an honorary
citizen of Paris has also added a potential new complication.

Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who tabled the Dalai Lama citizenship proposal,
called him "a champion of peace" and said Paris wanted to show support
for the Tibetan people's struggle for freedom.

Protests against Chinese rule of Tibet erupted last month in the capital
Lhasa, spreading to other areas of China with Tibetan populations.

Exiled Tibetan leaders say 150 people have been killed in a subsequent
Chinese crackdown, while China says Tibetan "rioters" killed 18
civilians and two police officers.

As well as the Paris torch protests, bilateral tensions have been stoked
by Sarkozy's insistence that he will attend the Olympic opening
ceremonies only if China takes steps toward opening dialogue with the
Dalai Lama.

However, China and France have sought to head off a growing rift.

In addition to Sarkozy's letter to Jin, whose photogenic face has become
ubiquitous in China's state-controlled media and earned her the nickname
"Smiling angel in a wheelchair", Chinese press commentaries have called
for cooler heads to prevail.

"Over-the-top nationalism is not constructive but can do harm to the
country," said an editorial Tuesday in the China Daily.

Xinhua press agency, which, like all other Chinese media, mouths the
Communist Party's line, welcomed Sarkozy's letter to Jin.

"Even though it has arrived late, it is still welcome," it said.

The two sides were expected to make further efforts this week to bury
the hatchet.

Poncelet was to hand over a separate letter from Sarkozy to Hu,
according to sources.

Former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin also is to hold talks with
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Thursday, and the president's top
diplomatic adviser, Jean-David Levitte, arrives at the weekend for meetings.

A state visit to China by Sarkozy in November led to billions of dollars
in trade deals.
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