Wed, Jan 28, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Et tu, Chirac?

COZYING UP The French president said Taiwan's March 20 referendum would be a `grave error' as he sought to boost ties with Beijing during a visit by his Chinese counterpart

AP , PARIS

French President Jacques Chirac, right, points while talking to Chinese President Hu Jintao during welcoming ceremonies in Paris on Monday.

PHOTO: EPA

France's president, in a strong show of support for the visiting leader of China, warned Taiwan that it will be committing a "grave error" that could destabilize the region by holding a referendum in March.

At a state dinner Monday to honor Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), French President Jacques Chirac added his weight to China's opposition to President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) plan to ask voters whether Taiwan should beef up anti-missile defenses if Beijing refuses to withdraw the hundreds of missiles it has pointed at Taiwan.

"Breaking the status quo with a unilateral destabilizing initiative, whatever it is, including a referendum, would favor division over unity," Chirac said. "It would be a grave error. It would carry a heavy responsibility."

Speaking later, Hu thanked Chirac for his "clear position of principle ... against the moves by the Taiwanese authorities that tend toward the independence of Taiwan through a referendum."

"We firmly oppose the independence of Taiwan and will not let anyone separate Taiwan from the rest of China in one way or another," Hu said.

But Chirac also pressed for human rights improvements in China, urging Hu to lead his country of 1.3 billion people "resolutely down the track of democracy and of liberties," to match its impressive economic transformation.

"Respect for human rights is a necessary condition for the development of modern societies and economies," Chirac said. "I know it is one of your priorities."

According the Chinese leader a rare honor, Chirac went himself to Paris' Orly airport to meet Hu and his wife, Liu Yongqing. The two men inspected a military guard as a band played China's anthem, March of the Volunteers, followed by France's Marseillaise.

Hu said closer ties between the two permanent members of the UN Security Council, who both opposed the US-led war in Iraq, would help promote "peace, stability and prosperity in the world."

Hu and Chirac discussed Iraq, Iran, the Middle East and Afghanistan, but not human rights, at a meeting Monday afternoon, Chirac spokeswoman Catherine Colonna said.

Chirac told Hu that France backs Chinese efforts to peacefully defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula stemming from North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

The state visit was Hu's first to Western Europe since he ascended to the presidency last March.

But human rights, a key concern in the country that spawned the declaration of the rights of man in 1789, overshadowed the official agenda. In protest at Chinese abuses, some lawmakers said they would boycott Hu's address to the French parliament yesterday.

"Nothing obliges us to listen to him who leads the world's biggest dictatorship," Lionnel Luca, a lawmaker from Chirac's UMP party, said on France-Info radio.

"China is not the smiling face it seems," he said.

Rather than hear Hu, Luca will join protesters against China's policies in Tibet at a demonstration scheduled to coincide with the speech, said Luca's parliamentary aide, Marie Huteau.

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