China returns France's efforts to reconcile

China's government is seeking to dampen anti-France sentiment among its people in the wake of the tumultuous Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay, which has made France the target of a nationalist campaign in China, reported the dpa.

Seeing the pro-Tibet protests and chaos surrounding the torch run in Paris as an affront to China, the nationalists have held their own demonstrations and called for boycotts of the French retailer Carrefour as well as French products.

But Chinese media on Wednesday published a statement from the Chinese Commerce Ministry that sought to rehabilitate Carrefour in the eyes of the Chinese.

Carrefour has been accused of having links to exiled Tibetans, but the ministry said it welcomed the chain's statement denying that it supports political groups but does back the Beijing Summer Olympic Games.

"We noted that the French government and companies have taken positive action to improve and safeguard bilateral relations," the ministry statement said. "We welcomed these actions."

It added that Carrefour has 112 stores in China; employs 40,000 Chinese, or 99 per cent of its workforce in China; and products made in China make up 95 per cent of its sales.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry as well as official media and Internet portals are calling for tolerance and "rational" expressions of patriotism.

A letter from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to one of the Paris torch bearers, a disabled Chinese athlete who won fame in China by shielding the torch from protesters with her body from her wheelchair, has been received positively in China.

"I wish to tell you that I was shocked by the attacks you were subjected to on April 7 in Paris," said the letter, which was delivered personally Monday by French Senate President Christian Poncelet to fencer Jin Jing during a visit to Shanghai.

"It is understandable that the Chinese people were hurt, and I firmly condemn [those acts]," the French president wrote.

Sarkozy has also dispatched former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and the presidential foreign affairs adviser, Jean-David Levitte, to China on a fence-mending trip.

Raffarin was expected in Beijing Thursday. He is to meet with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and is to carry a message from Sarkozy to the Chinese leadership. Levitte is to follow at the weekend.

During the Paris relay, the Olympic torch was extinguished at least twice, and the relay itself was cut short because of the numerous anti-Chinese protests along its route.

As a result, pro-Chinese demonstrations have taken place in Paris and China, with protesters in Beijing and other cities targeting outlets of the French retail giant Carrefour.

Sarkozy had earlier riled Beijing by urging China's government to open talks with the Dalai Lama and suggesting he might boycott the August 8 Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing. Those statements came after anti-China protests and unrest in Tibet last month were followed by a Chinese crackdown.

Efforts for a Sino-French reconciliation were also dealt a blow this week when Paris decided to present the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, with honorary citizenship. China's Foreign Ministry condemned the move as "another provocation" and "interference in China's domestic affairs."

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