La Crise Carrefour Sarkozy Launches Beijing Charm Offensive

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is sending prominent envoys to Beijing this week with conciliatory messages in their luggage for the Chinese leadership. France is rushing to heal the rift that has seen mass protests and a boycott against a major French supermarket chain in China.


With France bearing the brunt of anti-Western sentiment in China, Paris is rushing to improve relations with Beijing after a weekend of protests against French supermarket chain Carrefour.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is sending messages with his chief diplomatic aide Jean-David Levitte and former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin when they travel to China in the coming days. Raffarin, who arrives in Beijing on Wednesday and will hold a private meeting with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao the next day, is expected to deliver messages from both the president and his predecessor Jacques Chirac.

The French diplomatic offensive comes after a wave of anti-French protests over the weekend that saw protestors rallying outside the French Embassy in Beijing and outlets of the French supermarket chain Carrefour in nine cities on Sunday. The French chain, which has 122 stores in China, had been accused of supporting Tibet's political and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama -- something the company has strongly denied.

On Sunday Carrefour Chairman Jose Luis Duran told newspaper Journal du Dimanche that the allegations had "no foundation," adding that "Carrefour has given no direct or indirect support to any political or religious cause."

By Monday things seemed to have calmed down after the Chinese authorities made efforts to rein in the protests. People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party's official paper, called for calm and urged people to cherish patriotism, "while expressing it in a rational way."

The weekend's protests spread far beyond China's borders. Several thousand Chinese people gathered on Saturday in Paris, London, Berlin and Los Angeles to rally in support of their country and against what they see as the biased media coverage of the Olympic torch relay and unrest in Tibet. In Paris, up to 4,000 pro-Chinese protestors gathered, waving Chinese flags and chanting "Beijing Olympic Games."

France has become the focus of general anti-Western feelings in China as preparations for the Beijing Olympics are overshadowed by the issue of human rights and Tibet following a brutal crackdown on pro-independence protests there in March. The Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay sparked outrage when footage showed pro-Tibet protesters attempting to snatch the flame from Jin Jing, a young Chinese woman in a wheelchair who has since become a national hero for her successful effort to ward them off.

On Monday, Sarkozy sent a message of sympathy to Jin, which French Senate President Christian Poncelet presented to the 27-year-old in Shanghai. "I would like to express to you my deep emotion for the way you were shoved in Paris on April 7," Sarkozy said in the letter. "You showed outstanding courage," he added. The French president invited Jin to visit his country again as his "personal guest."

"It Won't Last Long"

Robert Menard, president of the group Reporters Without Borders, has accused Sarkozy of lacking "audacity." Speaking to online reporters from the French newsmagazine Le Point on Monday, he said he hoped the president had also used his letter to Jin to condemn the Chinese violence in Tibet. Menard described the recent anti-French protests in China as "propaganda," adding: "The Chinese are flexing their muscles but it won't last long as they have more to lose. ... Realism will win out over nationalism."

But the Dalai Lama is still a cause célèbre. On Monday the Socialist mayor of Paris, Bernard Delanoe, asked the city council to vote on making the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen of the city. If the motion passes, it is sure to provoke the ire of Beijing again.

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