Hu's Visit To France Marks Turnaround In Relations
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Eleanor Beardsley explains why.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Two years ago, President Sarkozy threatened to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, over China's treatment of Tibet. In return, millions of Chinese boycotted French companies in China. But this weekend, there was no talk of Tibet, and Chinese Premiere Hu Jintao was treated like royalty.
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BEARDSLEY: Going beyond the demands of protocol, Sarkozy and French first lady Carla Bruni welcomed the Chinese first couple at Orly Airport. Their motorcade was then escorted down the Champs Elysees by France's elite Republican Guard, on horseback.
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BEARDSLEY: Franco-Chinese relations are more about realpolitik today. Sarkozy needs Chinese support as France takes up leadership of the G20 talks next year, and China needs an ally against American pressure for it to devalue its currency. Sarkozy foreshadowed the shift in relations even before Hu's arrival, saying China should be seen as an opportunity, not a risk.
(Through translator) And when you invite someone to your country, you should be a gracious host. It's not by reproaching people that you advance things. Trying to understand each other is the best way to find a compromise advantageous to both partners.
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BEARDSLEY: The advantages to French business were obvious as Sarkozy and Hu signed a raft of contracts worth more than $30 billion. All the big, French multinationals got a piece of the pie as the media looked on. But human rights groups were deeply critical.
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BEARDSLEY: Members of group Reporters Without Borders held two street demonstrations that were quickly shut down by police. Jean Francois Julliard, head of Reporters without Borders, believes France can sign business contracts with China while pressing it on human rights.
MONTAGNE: Other governments do both. For instance, in Germany or in U.K., the authorities support their private companies and make very big, commercial contracts with China. And at the same time, they have a very firm statement about political situation on human rights situation in China.
BEARDSLEY: The real reason Sarkozy is now courting China has nothing to do with business contracts, says Philippe Dessertine, head of Paris' High Finance Institute. It's all about Sarkozy's own re-election bid, in 2012.
P: (Through translator) For Sarkozy, who is extremely unpopular in France right now, hosting a successful G20 is crucial to getting him re-elected. So the stakes are enormous for him. That's why he's ready to do anything to make China France's ally for the next year.
BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
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