- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

PARIS — President Jacques Chirac welcomed Chinese President Hu Jintao at Orly Airport yesterday, but some French lawmakers vowed to snub Mr. Hu by boycotting his keynote speech to protest Beijing’s human rights record.

Mr. Chirac’s presence on the red carpet at the airport for Mr. Hu and his wife, Liu Yongqing, was a rare honor by the French president. The two men inspected a military guard as a band played China’s anthem, “March of the Volunteers,” followed by France’s “Marseillaise.”

In a written arrival statement, Mr. Hu said France and China — both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — bear “a great responsibility in world affairs and represent an important part of the international scene.”

Mr. Hu did not refer to the two countries’ joint opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. But he said that in “an international context marked by constant, deep changes,” closer China-France relations would favor “peace, stability and prosperity in the world.”

The state visit was Mr. Hu’s first to Western Europe since he took power in early 2003. He said he hoped to “write a new chapter in the annals of China-France relations.”

France was looking to strengthen its ties with the world’s fastest-growing economy and Asia’s rising power. China is looking to France, one of its warmest friends in Europe, for help in improving relations with the European Union as a whole. Iraq’s reconstruction was also expected to be discussed.

But human rights, a key concern in the country that spawned the declaration of the rights of man in 1789, overshadowed the official agenda. In protest of perceived Chinese abuses, some lawmakers said they would boycott Mr. Hu’s address to the French parliament Tuesday.

“Nothing obliges us to listen to him who leads the world’s biggest dictatorship,” Lionnel Luca, a lawmaker from Mr. Chirac’s UMP party, said on France-Info radio.

“China is not the smiling face it seems,” he said.

Rather than hear Mr. Hu, Mr. Luca will join protesters of China’s policies in Tibet at a demonstration scheduled to coincide with the speech, said Mr. Luca’s parliamentary aide, Marie Huteau.

Mr. Chirac did not raise China’s human rights record with Mr. Hu in their first meeting yesterday, but it would be discussed later in the three-day visit, said Chirac spokeswoman Catherine Colonna.

In what would mark a milestone in China’s long efforts to beat back its human rights critics, European ministers meeting in Brussels said that the European Union could decide this spring to lift its ban on arms sales to China — imposed after Beijing’s bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square.

“Our feeling is that the embargo is out of date as relations between Europe and China improve,” said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.

But “we are not yet at the point of lifting the embargo,” he added. “More discussion is necessary,” especially on human rights.

China’s Foreign Ministry called for an end to the ban “as soon as possible,” saying it does not help “the good momentum in the development of the relationship between China and the EU.”


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