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France Calls on EU to Improve Ties with China - 2004-01-26


France has called for the European Union to agree to lift its arms embargo on China. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin made the proposal while China's president is in Paris to celebrate the 40th anniversary of French-Chinese relations.

As Paris put on a red-carpet welcome for Chinese President Hu Jintao, Foreign Minister de Villepin called for EU foreign ministers to agree to lift the embargo by March 25. Mr. de Villepin said such a move would be in line with what he called the proper nature of EU relations with such an important country.

The EU arms embargo against China was imposed after the violent crackdown on student-led pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing in 1989. Many European countries are reluctant to end it until there are further improvements in China's human-rights record.

That dispute mirrors the controversy over President Hu's visit to France this week.

He is receiving the full honors of a state visit, including a personal greeting at the airport by French President Jacques Chirac. The Eiffel Tower is blanketed in blinking red lights for the duration of Mr. Hu's four-day visit. And Mr. Hu has received the rare honor of being invited to address the French National Assembly - something only a few foreign of heads of state have done.

But several French lawmakers plan to boycott the speech because of China's human-rights record, and at least two street protests are planned in Paris.

But Member of Parliament Guy Drut, of President Chirac's center-right Union for a Popular Movement Party and head of the Assembly's China caucus, says he is looking forward to hearing what the Chinese leader has to say.

Mr. Drut says China is opening up. He says it would be ridiculous for France not to help the country become more engaged with the international community, while also pressing for more democracy in China.

But Francis Perrin, president of Amnesty International France, is among many critics who fear the French government will fail to properly address China's poor human rights record.

"It is not always a tradition in France, and more generally in diplomatic circles," he said. "Often people try to take a very soft tone about human rights. We think that due to the very high level, and in some cases increasing level of human rights violations in China, Western officials, including high French officials have to be very clear in their discussions with the Chinese president."

Critics note, for example, that Gao Xinjian, a dissident Chinese writer and Nobel laureate now living in France, was not invited to this year's book fair in Paris, which will feature China. Mr. Gao is apparently going anyway, as a guest of his French publisher.

President Hu's visit is his first to Europe as head of state. He was elected by China's National People's Congress in March.

France was the first Western government to recognize the People's Republic of China in 1964. But economic relations remain mediocre, and increasing trade is believed to be a top item on the French agenda during talks with the Chinese delegation this week.

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