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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Beijing hardens stand on France

December 15, 2008

Virginie Mangin, Foreign Correspondent
The National - Abu Dhabi
December 14. 2008
 
 
BEIJING // The Chinese media is continuing to condemn Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, for his meeting with the Dalai Lama last week, but calls to boycott French products in China have failed to take off.
 
Relations between France and China slumped after Mr Sarkozy met the Tibetan spiritual leader who was in Poland for a Nobel Prize gathering, despite China’s repeated warnings to call off the meeting.
 
“The responsibility to repair the dampened Sino-French relations lies with France, not China. We demand and hope that the French side takes concrete steps to correct its mistake. France needs to fully grasp the damage done, not only to the Sino-French ties, but also to our relationship with the European Union,” Liu Jianchao, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, said at a press conference shortly after the meeting.
 
Chinese editorials did not spare France on Friday, a day after the French ambassador held a press conference to try and ease tensions between the two countries.
 
“He [the French ambassador] spent the bulk of the time blaming the Chinese for making the case … What is the logic here? Shall we apologise?” said the China Daily, an English-language newspaper, in its editorial.
 
“Talking about partnership, the Chinese care about reciprocity, and hate duplicity … For the French ambassador’s and president’s information, the Chinese are forgiving, but not on matters of sovereignty.”
 
This is not the first time the Tibetan spiritual leader’s meeting with state officials has sparked a controversy.
 
The Dalai Lama recently met George W Bush, the US president, Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, and Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, drawing protests and differing levels of economic and political retaliation from Beijing.
 
But no meeting has angered Chinese officials as much as this last one. Even before the meeting – which had been planned for several months – China had called off a summit with the European Union, due to be hosted in the French city of Lyon, in protest. About 150 Chinese businessmen had been expected to meet European counterparts at the sidelines of the meeting.
 
Since then, France has tried to temper the debate. Mr Sarkozy has called China a “great nation” and Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, has said no harm was meant by the meeting. But so far French diplomatic efforts have had little effect.
A week on, the Chinese side continues to fume and French businesses hope repercussions will remain at a minimum.
 
A report in the China Daily said the cost so far of lost contracts due to the cancellation of the summit between the European Union and China amounts to about €10 billion (Dh49bn) and Agence France-Presse reported the Chinese side could delay the signing of a planned order for 150 Airbus aircraft, though this has not been confirmed.
 
Calls on internet sites to boycott French products are multiplying, but they have not reached the same level achieved in April after the passage of the Olympic torch was interrupted by pro-Tibetan protesters in Paris. Following the protest, sales at French-owned Carrefour supermarkets dipped for two months. Also, business between the two countries slowed and the number of Chinese tourists visiting France dipped.
 
Although a recent internet poll on Sohu.com showed 92.57 per cent of voters back the boycott of French products and another 80 per cent said they would not accept an apology from Mr Sarkozy, the anti-French sentiment does not seem to have turned into action against the country.
 
Business at Carrefour on Saturday seemed slightly slower, but the supermarket was still packed.
 
Mr Bai, who sells home appliances, said he had seen a slight drop in customer numbers.
 
He said the movement will fail even before its starts. “Boycotting French products will make no difference. France has no influence on Tibet anyway, so it can say what it wants. In April, the situation was more emotional, but now trade relations have returned to normal. I really don’t think the boycott will work”.
 
Another customer said she heard about the call but could not afford French products anyway, which are much more expensive than local ones.
 
“It’s pointless boycotting Carrefour,” she said. “Most of the products are Chinese as are all the employees.”
 
Li Run, who was also shopping at Carrefour, was sceptical about the boycott.
“I don’t think this time round anything will happen. I haven’t received any calls to boycott or anti-French messages. Last April my inbox was full.”
 
vmangin@thenational.ae
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