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Referendum displays French gall
Paul Lin, Taipei Times
2/8/2004 1:06:00 AM

When Chinese President Hu Jintao was done with his Lunar New Year show, "Visiting The Poor To See How They Are Doing," he dashed off on a foreign tour, with France being the most important stop. The reason France is so important is that it is one of the most important members of the EU. Since France also often takes the lead in opposing the US, it has become a natural strategic partner of China.

Hu brought with him two major demands on his visit to France. First, he wanted France to oppose the Taiwan referendum, and, second, he wanted France to use its influence in the EU to lift the ban on arms sales to China. On Jan. 26, the same day Hu arrived in France, a meeting between EU foreign ministers in the General Affairs and External Relations Council turned down France's suggestion that the EU embargo on the sale of arms to China be lifted prior to April 1, with some countries saying they needed further proof showing that China's human-rights record has improved.

Some countries also warned that a lifting of the embargo should not be rushed at a time when the relationship between Beijing and Taiwan was tense due to the March 20 referendum. They did agree, however, to reconsider lifting the ban at their spring session, and invited the Permanent Representative Committee and the Political and Security Committee to look into the matter.

On the issue of the Taiwan referendum, French president Jacques Chirac couldn't wait to express his support for China's position, and did so on the night of Hu's arrival. At a news conference on Jan. 27, he also attacked Taiwan, using the words "grave mistake" and "provocative" to describe Taiwan's plans to hold a referendum.

A joint Sino-French declaration also stated France's opposition to "any unilateral initiative whatsoever, including a referendum which aims to change the status quo by increasing tensions in the strait and leading to Taiwan's independence." Compared to the attitude of US President George W. Bush, who issued a similar warning that China must not change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, it is obvious that Chirac is firmly on China's side.

French media criticized Chirac, saying that he was granting any and all of Hu's requests. But apart from meeting these two major demands, there are at least two or three other problematic issues. First is the arrests by French police of many Falun Gong members protesting their suppression by China. Without discrimination, police arrested anyone wearing yellow clothes or a yellow scarf (the color yellow is associated with Falun Gong.) The same thing happened when former Chinese president Jiang Zemin visited Europe - seeing anything yellow was frightening and made host countries nervous.

Second, the French government gladly accepted that the ethnic Chinese French citizen and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Gao Xingjian, and his works will be completely excluded from the "Year of China" organized in France to celebrate 40 years of Sino-French diplomatic recognition, despite the fact that Gao's book, Soul Mountain, was written in Chinese.

Third, Hu was allowed to give a speech in the French parliament, a temple of the people. More than half of the French lawmakers boycotted the speech in protest.

Hu actually said that without democracy, there would be no socialism and socialism would not be modernized. It turned out that China had implemented democracy before France did so, and of course before Taiwan did so.

He also said that when France and Taiwan were still implementing capitalism, China had already realized socialism. Does the fact that this kind of nonsense can be heard in the French parliament add to France's glory, or does it mean that France is in decline?

Chiracís actions are, in fact, not unexpected. France is indeed the homeland of the declaration of human rights. After the Tiananmen massacre, it was very moving to see former French president Francois Mitterand's government open its arms to accept and support the Chinese democracy movement.

Not long after, however, Chirac came to power and in 1996 he received then-Chinese premier Li Peng, "the butcher of Tiananmen," making France the first major Western nation to receive Li.

When Jiang visited France in 1999, Chirac invited him to his home in central France, where his wife danced with the dictator. The aim of sucking up to China in this manner was the hope to attract Chinese business, and orders for Airbus aircraft in particular.

How much more of the French people's spirit will Chirac have to sacrifice? France indeed has its measure of nationalism, in particular when arguing with the US. But where is this nationalism when France is being so compliant towards the Chinese dictatorship?

There is nothing of the spirit of Charles de Gaulle, but, instead, we see the shadow of Henri Philippe Petain (head of the collaborationist French Vichy regime during World War II). No wonder there has been a strong public reaction.

The people of Taiwan, however, shouldn't be too concerned with France. They should see that China is behind all this.

Unfortunately, some politicians and media people gloat over this disaster and aim their attacks not at China, but at Taiwan itself.

This is what their "Taiwan First" means -- just like China, they give priority to beating up on Taiwan. This is not a matter of ethnicity, it is a matter of national identification.

After looking at the issue from this perspective, can it still be said that holding a referendum is unnecessary?

Paul Lin is a commentator based in New York.

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