France's Sarkozy on fence-mending mission to China
BEIJING Aug 8 (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew into Beijing on a fence-mending mission on Friday but still insisted on bringing up the tricky subject of human rights with Chinese leaders, a senior government official said on Friday. Sarkozy, whose nation holds the rotating European Union presidency, handed two lists of jailed dissidents to Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during meetings which ran for 40 minutes, the French official said. Members of the European Union drafted one of the lists while the other included names given to Sarkozy by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a Green European lawmaker and an influential figure in France.
Cohn-Bendit has spearheaded criticism of Sarkozy, who rights groups and opposition politicians say has ignored China's rights record in favour of business and political interests, and dubbed Sarkozy's China trip a disgrace.
Sarkozy is attending the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games despite saying earlier this year that he may not do so because of Beijing's handling of recent violence in Tibet.
And despite suggestions Sarkozy might stand up to Chinese pressure not to meet the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, when he visits France next week, Sarkozy's office has announced no such meeting will take place.
China bristles at any meeting between the Dalai Lama and Western leaders that appear to lend him political legitimacy.
The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule, says he wants autonomy, not independence, for his Himalayan homeland. But China says it is unconvinced and considers him a separatist.
ON THE DEFENSIVE
Ties between China and France have deteriorated in recent months after disruption of the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay by pro-Tibet activists angered many Chinese.
The Paris stage was particularly sensitive in China because of a Chinese wheelchair-bound athlete who was pictured protecting the flame from protesters.
Other incidents, including the city of Paris's decision to make the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen, have fuelled tensions.
France rejected suggestions of any policy U-turn, with the official stating the Dalai Lama had not requested any meeting with Sarkozy because he did not believe the timing was good.
Sarkozy's wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, will meet the Dalai Lama at the opening of a Buddhist temple in France this month.
Sarkozy broached the subject of the Dalai Lama when he met French Olympic athletes in Beijing.
"The Dalai Lama made a clever statement. He said he wanted the Olympics to be a success. He did not ask to meet me," Sarkozy said, adding that a meeting might take place one day.
"I will have a chance to meet with him," he said.
Sarkozy sought to justify his trip to China, where he sat at Hu's top table during a meal attended by 80 heads of state:
"It is an opportunity to accompany China towards openness, tolerance, progress and towards respecting our values," he added. "How can we do these things if we don't engage in dialogue?"
Meetings between Sarkozy and Chinese leaders on Friday may have helped patch up relations, at least on the surface.
"In terms of China, the page of the catastrophic torch relay has been turned. In terms of the Dalai Lama, matters are coordinated," the source said. (Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau in Paris; writing by Tamora Vidaillet; edited by Richard Meares)
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