France and China hold talks to mend ties

3 min

Former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin meets high-level Chinese government figures to ameliorate the strained ties between their nations. Chinese groups boycotted French retailer Carrefour. R. Parsons comments.


China and France prepared high-level talks here Thursday as the two nations endeavoured to put their troubled relations back on track amid tensions over Tibet and the Olympics.

Former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who is carrying a message from President Nicolas Sarkozy, was scheduled to meet with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao later in the day.

Meanwhile the leader of the French Senate, Christian Poncelet, who has been in China since early this week, was set to hold talks with President Hu Jintao, a meeting Raffarin was also expected to attend.

The French guests are in China as Paris and Beijing strive to address diplomatic tensions, highlighted when thousands of protesters picketed Chinese branches of giant French retailer Carrefour over the weekend.

The protests were fuelled by anger over a perceived bias in Western coverage of China's crackdown in Tibet, Sarkozy's threat to stay away from the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing in August, and protests that marred the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay.

The French government has sought to downplay a Paris city council decision to make exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, an honorary citizen of the capital.

China had earlier warned the move could harm Sino-French relations, but sounded a friendlier note on Thursday, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman calling Raffarin "an old friend of China".

"The China-France relationship is in the common interest of the two people, so we hope the two governments and peoples can value a long-term friendship," spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.

Raffarin had criticised the council's decision as "a very serious political mistake" and stressed there was no confrontation with China, according to an interview published by Chinese state media on Wednesday.

The Chinese commerce ministry has also cautioned against a boycott of Carrefour, noting that it employs 40,000 workers here and that up to 95 percent of its products are made in China.

Raffarin told France's Le Parisien newspaper he was bringing a biography of French war hero and former president Charles de Gaulle as a gift for Hu from Sarkozy.

Poncelet on Monday delivered a message from Sarkozy to a wheelchair-bound Chinese athlete jostled by pro-Tibet protesters during the April 7 Paris torch relay.

The message expressed regret over the protests.

Sarkozy's diplomatic advisor Jean-David Levitte is also due in China this weekend.

The French president angered China earlier this month when he said dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama would ensure the Olympic Games could occur "in a calm manner."

China accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking Tibetan independence -- which he firmly denies -- and refuses to hold such a dialogue.

Protests against Chinese rule over Tibet erupted last month in the capital Lhasa, spreading to other areas of China with Tibetan populations and fuelling the pro-Tibet shows of support that have dogged the Olympic torch relay.

Exiled Tibetan leaders say more than 150 people died in the crackdown. In contrast, Beijing says Tibetan "rioters" killed 20 people.

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