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Europeans Weigh Likelihood of Chinese Trade Retaliation  

European politicians are deeply divided over whether to boycott the opening Olympic ceremonies to protest Beijing's human rights record. Lisa Bryant in Paris takes a look at whether the Chinese will retaliate with a trade boycott, and what effect that could have in Europe.

As the August games in Beijing approach, several European leaders have announced they will boycott the opening ceremonies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have indicated they will not attend the event in Beijing, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also considering staying home. The European Parliament has urged other EU leaders to boycott the opening ceremony.

But European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson has warned such a boycott might spark a Chinese backlash - at a time when the European Union is trying to boost trade relations with China.

Already, calls by ordinary Chinese to boycott European products, including the French supermarket chain Carrefour, are proliferating on the Internet and in text messages across China. On Wednesday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said Beijing believes the informal boycott push has merit.

China's government and its people are outraged by protests that marred the Olympic torch relays in London and Paris this month. Beijing accuses demonstrators protesting China's crackdown in Tibet, in particular, of meddling in its internal affairs.

People in China are not only angry at the torch relay protests but at chances European leaders might stay away from the opening Olympic ceremony.

Experts like Katinka Barysch, of the Center for European Reform in London, say it is difficult to know whether a Chinese boycott of European goods will be effective.

"It's very difficult to foresee at the moment how many people would join such an unofficial boycott. The European trade commissioner has just warned of the tit-for-tat spiral - one side starts boycotting and then the other side starts boycotting and then before you even know it, a highly profitable trade relationship is disrupted," said Barysch.

But in Beijing, Andre Chieng, president of the Asian-European Chamber of Commerce AEC, says he is surprised at the magnitude of the Chinese boycott campaign.

Chieng told Radio France that calls for boycotting European products have spread quickly thanks to the growth of Internet and mobile phone use in China. He said a similar call to boycott Japanese goods two years ago was far less significant.

Analyst Barysch warns against isolating China through boycotts.

"I mean you cannot not engage with China. It's a rising superpower. It's a hugely important market. We have disagreements that we have to speak very openly about. There's no way we can ignore or isolate China," said Barysch.

But Barysch says Beijing, for its part, must also look, in the future, at the way it presents itself and its policies to the international community.