Beijing (AsiaNews) - In an attempt to stop the violent anti -French sentiment that has exploded in recent days in China, Paris is sending two emissaries to the Chinese government with messages of peace from president Sarkozy and his predecessor Chirac. In the meantime, Beijing is seeking to calm the unbridled nationalism of the population, which risks causing serious damage to the country's economy and image.
Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former French prime minister, will arrive in Beijing next April 23 to meet with Chinese prime minister Wen Jibao; Jean-David Levitte, the top French diplomatic adviser, will join them at the end of the week. At the centre of the conversations will be the demonstrations that have exploded in Beijing, Xian, Hefei, and Guangzhou, and the announcement of a boycott against Carrefour, a French multinational supermarket chain with more than 112 stores in China.
It is not clear why this company has been targeted by the demonstrators, who since last April 19 have been gathering in front of its doors to burn French flags and chant slogans against Paris, where the Olympic torch made one of the most difficult passages of its international tour. Particular disdain was prompted by the aggression against Jin Jing, a wheelchair-bound Chinese torchbearer who was accosted beneath the Eiffel Tower, and the threatened absence of Sarkozy from the inauguration of the games.
On Chinese blogs, which are normally strictly censored by the authorities, there are messages entitled "Carrefour out of China", or "Let's boycott France and its products". Zheng Xiang, aged 30, explains that the company "is a major French firm, and supports Tibet and the Dalai Lama. For this reason, it is right to boycott it". For his part, company president Jose Luis Duran denies support for the Buddhist cause, and speaks of a "self-boycott". In China, he explains, "our stores offer Chinese products, sold by Chinese employees. Boycotting us means boycotting China".
This opinion seems to be shared by the central authorities, who have permitted demonstrations but now are trying to halt their consequences. An editorial published two days ago by Xinhua, and reprinted yesterday by the People's Daily, says the people must "express patriotism in a rational way". The reference is to the violent protests in front of the French embassy and Carrefour supermarkets, "rash actions that achieve nothing".
In the meantime, the controversial Olympic torch has reached Malaysia, the government of which has recalled that it "does not want to politicise in any way the Games, which are a sporting event par excellence". Tomorrow, the torch will leave for Jakarta and Canberra, reaching Nagano on April 26: here, after the decision taken by the most important Buddhist temple in the country not to host the torch, the government is considering new routes to avoid inconveniences.
Vietnam, which will host the torch next April 29, is also in a state of alert: prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung has recalled "the importance of ensuring a peaceful passage of this symbol to Ho Chi Minh City, which must not be involved in mischief and distorted information".
The new Nepali government, led by the Maoists of rebel leader Prachanda, is totally aligned with China. The government, which has the task of overseeing the torch's journey through its Himalayan section, has warned that it is "ready even to open fire" on those who seek to carry out "anti-Chinese activities".