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Chirac Condemns Taiwan Referendum Prior to Chinese President's Visit - 2004-01-27


French President Jacques Chirac has warned Taiwan against holding a referendum on the island's security, saying it threatens regional stability. Mr. Chirac's remarks offers a key boost for Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is paying his first head-of-state visit to Europe.

During a joint press conference with President Hu at the Elysee presidential palace, Mr. Chirac said it would be a grave error if Taiwan held a controversial referendum in March on building up anti-missile defenses against possible Chinese aggression.

Mr. Chirac said any initiative that can be interpreted as aggressive is dangerous and irresponsible, not only for Taiwan and China, but also for regional stability. In a separate declaration, the French government said it continues to support a single China, and condemned any unilateral moves leading to Taiwan's independence.

Mr. Chirac's remarks were bound to please the Chinese leader, whose country adamantly opposes the referendum plan. The French leader also repeated his government's new position to lobby in favor of lifting a 15-year European Union weapons embargo against China.

The EU passed the embargo after China's bloody crackdown against pro-democracy protesters in 1989, and some European leaders are expected to resist French calls to drop it.

Mr. Chirac's declarations offer a good start for Mr. Hu's four-day visit to France, his first and only European stop as China's new head of state. The Chinese leader leaves directly for Africa Thursday, after four days visiting Paris and the French industrial city of Toulouse.

Earlier in the day, the two men signed a six-page joint declaration to reinforce cooperation in areas ranging from fighting terrorism and weapons proliferation, to boosting economic and cultural exchanges. A vague, one-paragraph statement in the document said France and China agreed on the need to support and protect human rights.

President Hu said China had made progress in human rights. He said China was in the process of reforming political institutions, and enforcing the rule of law, and popular representation at the local level. But critics do not agree, and President Hu's visit to France has been deeply controversial.

A number of French lawmakers boycotted Mr. Hu's address to France's National Assembly, and several demonstrations are planned during his visit.

Beyond political discussions, French officials particularly want to stress boosting French trade and business with China during the bilateral talks. On Tuesday, President Hu announced an agreement by a Chinese airline to purchase European-made Airbus jets. He is also scheduled to visit Airbus's Toulouse headquarters. French goods represent only one percent of Chinese imports, a figure Mr. Chirac declared was likely to grow.