China, France attempt to repair relations in wake of protests

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A pro-Tibetan protester in Paris attempts to wrangle the Olympic torch from Chinese fencer Jin Jing, who has become a national hero to many because of the incident.
Image: Yang Zhen Dong.

After anti-France protests were held in major Chinese cities over the weekend, China and France are now attempting to smoothen relations. China has discouraged the actions of the "radical" protesters, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent a letter to a Chinese Olympic athlete who has gained national fame in China following a controversial incident in the Paris Olympic torch relay.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the demonstrations were "encouraging and touching," but added that "we do not agree with some people's radical actions." She added that China should continue to harbor friendly bilateral relations with France.

A Carrefour retail store in China. Many Chinese protesters called for a boycott of Carrefour, who they accused of supporting the Dalai Lama.
Image: Cege72.

The Chinese state-run newspaper China Daily expressed the government's views on the protests in an editorial, warning against "false patriotism" and encouraging tolerance of differing opinions. "Over-the-top nationalism is not constructive, but can do harm to the country," the English-language newspaper said. "If we want to improve things, we will have to encourage responsible patriotism."

Some Chinese protesters have called for a boycott of French goods, in particular the French retailer Carrefour, which Chinese bloggers accused of supporting the Dalai Lama. Carrefour denied this allegation, saying in an interview that "Carrefour has not given any direct or indirect support to any political or religious cause."

Over-the-top nationalism is not constructive, but can do harm to the country.

—China Daily

The protests in China were a reaction to pro-Tibetan demonstrations held in Paris on April 7, when the Olympic torch was making its journey through the French capital. Pro-Tibet activists disrupted the torch relay by attempting to extinguish the flame or otherwise halt the proceedings.

One of the more controversial incidents of the torch relay involved Chinese Olympic fencer Jin Jing, who was one of the athletes chosen to bear the torch. Protesters tried to wrestle the torch from wheelchair-bound Jin, who is now regarded by many Chinese as a national hero because of the incident.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent a letter to Jin, condemning the attack she suffered and praising her courage. "I would like to express to you my deep feeling towards the way you were shoved in Paris on April 7 when you were holding the Olympic flame. You showed an outstanding courage, which honors you, and all your country," Sarkozy wrote in the letter. He also extended a personal invitation to her.

"This friendly move by President Sarkozy is appreciated by the Chinese people," said ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu. The letter was personally delivered by French Senate President Christian Poncelet, who is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders this week. Former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is also scheduled to visit China.