YANGZHOU, mainland China, AFP
French President Jacques Chirac Sunday raised the thorny issue of human rights in talks with mainland Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin, making a special plea for religious freedom in Tibet. Chirac’s spokeswoman Catherine Colonna said the French leader urged Beijing to ratify two United Nations human rights covenants and handed over a list of individual cases of particular concern to France. “France never fails to take the opportunity to put forward a list of individual cases … We do this discreetly with the sole objective of achieving results,” Colonna told reporters. She said the French leader raised the plight of Roman Catholics in mainland China during talks on the second day of his visit, which included a trip to Jiang’s home town of Yangzhou in eastern China. “France would like China to quickly ratify the two U.N. pacts,” Colonna added. Mainland China has signed the U.N. conventions on economic, social and cultural rights, and the pact on civil and political rights but its parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC) has yet to ratify them. Colonna said mainland Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen, who also took part in the talks, promised the NPC would soon re-examine the pacts and said the government backs ratification. She quoted Jiang as promising to make “new efforts” to wrap up the dragging issue, adding that Chirac said Beijing’s ratification of the pacts would be “appreciated” by France and the European Union. On Tibet, Chirac reiterated that France accepts unequivocally that the region is part of mainland China but would like to see more religious and political freedom for Tibetans. Chirac told Jiang that France was committed to respecting human rights and wanted to spread this respect around the world, although he accepted Beijing had a “different approach” to the issue. “But just because the approach is different does not mean we should not talk about it. On the contrary, dialogue brings change. The choice of dialogue is positive, confrontation has brought nothing positive,” said Colonna. The French president arrived in mainland China on Saturday for a three-day visit covering bilateral ties and relations between the mainland and the European Union, and he is due to chair a Sino-EU summit on Monday in Beijing. On Saturday the two leaders agreed to defuse the row over the sale of a 75-million-dollar ROCSAT-2 observation satellite which French company Aerospatiale Matra has agreed to deliver to Taiwan by the end of 2003. While France insists the satellite is purely for commercial use, Beijing says it has military capabilities and the sale is in violation of a 1994 commitment by France not to sell arms to the island. French business sources in mainland China say Beijing has effectively blacklisted many French companies because of the row and that pressure has intensified in the run-up to Chirac’s visit. The official Xinhua news agency issued a statement Sunday about Saturday’s talks, describing them as “friendly” and saying an “important consensus” was reached, apparently a reference to the satellite issue.