- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

BEIJING — Angry Chinese citizens are turning the tables on global protesters against the Beijing Olympics, organizing an online campaign to boycott luxury French brands in retaliation for last week’s Olympic torch-relay protests in Paris.

Calls for a boycott of French supermarket giant Carrefour and products made by the likes of Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior are spreading through cell phones and Internet forums as nationalistic sentiment seethes over scenes of a disabled Chinese torch bearer being attacked by a pro-Tibet demonstrator in Paris last week.

The image of one-legged fencer Jin Jing in her wheelchair, refusing to relinquish the torch while a protester attempted to wrestle it from her grip, has made the 27-year-old a national symbol of China’s struggle against international criticism.

Chinese people also are furious at French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s threat to boycott the Olympics’ opening ceremony.

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    One of the phone messages calling for action against Carrefour, which was received by a minibus driver in a remote rural area of Guizhou, southwest China, read:

    “May … is exactly three months before the Beijing Olympics. During this time everybody should not shop at Carrefour.

    “This is because its main shareholder has given massive amounts of money to the Dalai Lama, many people in France support Tibetan independence and even its president has spoken of boycotting the Olympic Games. Forward this to all your friends and relatives. Let Carrefour be empty for 17 days.”

    A call to arms on one popular online forum outlined plans for a public rally outside a Carrefour store in Beijing on May 1, which marks the 100-day countdown to the Olympics.

    “Let Carrefour see the strength of the Chinese people. Let them see the strength of our network,” it said.

    Many Internet users have registered their support with one commenting, “I strongly support this move. Chinese behaving like this have dignity, strength and confidence.”

    One blogger on Mop.com went as far as to say all Chinese employees of Carrefour should resign for “love of the country.”

    “We will not work for these companies that have brought us shame and hurt. Leave these places that have hurt us,” the message said.

    The phone at Carrefour China’s press office rang unanswered on yesterday and the group’s press department in France declined to comment.

    The French Embassy said it was waiting to see whether the rumblings turned into action.

    “We have seen the phone messages so we know something is going on,” an embassy press spokesman said.

    “We don’t know how representative they are of what most people are thinking, so we are waiting to see if there will be any consequences. We hope it is nothing serious and that it is just another way for people to express their anger and disappointment.”

    A Beijing-based journalist surnamed Zhu received one of the text messages but did not forward it.

    “I don’t think boycotting Carrefour will help either solve the Tibet problem or reduce outside criticism of China. It will increase tension, not reduce it.

    “But showing the outside world that the Chinese people are well allied may have some significance,” the journalist said.

    Chinese anger at France is considered unlikely to reach the same intensity as the anti-Japan sentiment that exploded in 2005 after the publication of Japanese history textbooks that downplayed Japan’s wartime atrocities.

    The Chinese government eventually stepped in to halt the anti-Japanese demonstrations because they threatened to upset social stability.

    With the latest boycott call, there are signs government censors have acted early this time to calm the situation: All comments posted on popular Internet forum Sohu.com relating to a boycott of Carrefour have been deleted.

    However, Chinese state media has not been shy in tapping into popular discontent while tugging on the nation’s heartstrings.

    “Chinese people are seriously disturbed and hurt by the chaotic scene in which an extremist tried to grab the torch from a weak, disabled Chinese girl, named Jin Jing, in her arm wheels. Is this the civil French government’s behavior?” the official Xinhua News Agency asked in a commentary.

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