China state media seeks to contain nationalist anger

Chinese official media have sought to temper nationalist calls for boycotts of foreign businesses accused of supporting Tibetan independence, urging angry citizens to focus on economic development. ( Reuters )

Chinese Internet sites have been awash with calls to stop buying French-made goods and to stop shopping at Carrefour stores after Tibet protesters in Paris disrupted the Beijing Olympics torch relay.

Following earlier prominent state media reports, Chinese officials and citizens have also vented outrage at a commentator on CNN television who spoke of Chinese "goons" and "junk".

But in a sign that the Chinese government may want to cool public anger over Tibet and the Olympics protests, the official Xinhua agency called for "patriotic zeal to concentrate on development."

The Xinhua commentary that appeared late on Thursday night said the calls to boycott French goods were an "unadorned expression of patriotic zeal and a sincere demonstration of public opinion."

But it balanced the praise with a warning not to challenge the government's policies of opening to foreign investment and markets.

"Patriotic zeal must enter onto a rational track and must be transformed into concrete actions to do one's own work well," said the commentary widely distributed in the Chinese media.

"Thirty years of reform and opening up have created a China miracle....But we must be crystal clear that for China that has endured so much, the future road will not be all smooth-going."

Many Chinese people are enthusiastic about Beijing Olympic Games in August, and the government has been waging a loud propaganda war against the exiled Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of masterminding deadly riots in Tibet's regional capital Lhasa last month and other Tibetan areas in neighboring provinces.

Beijing claims the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader sought to upstage Olympics preparations and a multi-national torch relay.

The Dalai Lama has rejected the allegations, speaking out against the use of violence, calling for talks with China and backing the Beijing Olympics.

The Xinhua commentary echoes official handling of earlier upsurges of popular nationalism when officials also sought to rein in volatile public anger that could turn against the government.

In May 1999, after NATO mistakenly bombed Beijing's Embassy in Belgrade during the war against Serbia and killed three Chinese nationals inside, angry students and citizens surrounded and stoned the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and attacked U.S. consulates in other parts of China.

Hu Jintao, then China's vice president and now its president, took the lead in cooling those protests by speaking on state television.

This time French companies are the main target with activists calling for a boycott of retailer Carrefour, accusing the company of helping fund the Dalai Lama.

But Xinhua urged readers to focus on economic development.

"Our tasks in accelerating domestic development are extremely heavy," it said. "We must convert full-hearted patriotic zeal into patriotic action."

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