French foreign affairs minister Bernard Kouchner has summoned the Chinese ambassador, Kong Quan, for his threatened words against France, though the ambassador has reiterated the statements. Franco-Chinese relations had been normalizing after the official announcement from Nicolas Sarkozy that he would travel to Beijing to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games.
The Chinese ambassador first said to the press on Tuesday that a meeting between the French president and the Dalai-Lama during his visit to Paris August 12-23rd. "It would run counter to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs," said Quan.
These are words, however, that don’t please Bernard Kouchner. “We have heard with a bit of surprise the statement by the Chinese ambassador, and I have asked him to come see me,” he said in reaction. “He sould come this afternoon so that I can understand and he can explain his position,” which is difficult on the part of France to accept.
Several hours earlier, Nicolas Sarkozy had announced from the G8 Summit in Japan that he would attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games on August 8th.”
The president of France has confirmed to the Chinese president his intention to travel to Beijing on August 8th to take part in the opening ceremony of the 29th Olympiad,” a statement reads, which puts an end to the suspense of the last few months.
The declarations of Kong Quan could in any case spoil this semblance of reconciliation between France and China. Asked about the eventual consequences of the incident, Kouchner responded, “For the moment, I’m just having him here. We will see what comes of it.”
“It’s up to the president to decide and he will decide. In any case, he just decided to participate in the opening ceremonies of the Games,” Kouchner also stated.
Angela Merkel welcomes the decision
France’s head of state will thus take his seat in the VIP stands of Beijing’s brand new Olympic stadium on Aug. 8, unlike Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown or German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Sarkozy will represent both France and the European Union, since France holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation group. The Elysée said other European leaders had approved Sarkozy’s decision to attend the festivities.
Despite her own refusal to attend, Merkel welcomed the decision. “It is very important for the European Union as a whole to be represented in Beijing,” she said.
Confirmation of France’s presence at the ceremony followed a brief encounter between Sarkozy and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on the margins of the G8 summit in Japan. The meeting “went very well,” said sources close to the French president, adding that “the strategic partnership between the two countries is back on track.”
Relations between France and China had been severely strained by the Olympic torch’s tumultuous passage through Paris on April 7.
Socialist Party calls for boycott
France’s Socialist opposition opposes French participation at the opening. Following news reports last week that Sarkozy had made the decision to attend the opening ceremony, the Socialists’ floor leader, Jean-Marc Ayrault, called for a boycott “in the name of all those who fight for freedom and human rights.”
Sarkozy had previously made his presence at the ceremony conditional on a fresh start in negotiations between Chinese authorities and the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Two series of closed-door meetings have taken place between Beijing and representatives of the Dalai Lama since the Tibetan riots of mid-March.
But it is not certain whether Sarkozy’s presence in Beijing will be sufficient to spark a sustainable rekindling of the relations between the two nations. Sarkozy has said he will receive the Dalai Lama when he visits Paris Aug. 12-23. China’s ambassador in France, Kong Quan, on Tuesday warned of “serious consequences” if Sarkozy meets the Dalai Lama. "If such a meeting took place, it would have serious consequences because it would be contrary to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs," the ambassador told reporters, adding: "The Dalai Lama is not only a spiritual leader, but also and above all someone who has separatist activities and who leads a government in exile.”