Saturday, June 26, 2004

France of Principles Fame Knows Who Its Allies Are and Where Real Values Lie

"Lighting up the Eiffel Tower in red was a splendid investment"

In his weekly article for the International Herald Tribune, Alan Riding describes France's kowtowing to China.

Behind the screen of culture, France and China are counting on significant political and economic returns from the Year of China in France, which ends next month, and the Year of France in China, which opens this fall. The idea of using culture to promote less-ethereal interests is something of a French specialty. … Making it easier, both France and China have highly centralized governments that control most of their cultural institutions.

Unsurprisingly, then, this exchange, which some officials describe as the largest ever between two nations, was born, not of cultural nostalgia, but of a hard-nosed political decision by France's president, Jacques Chirac, and Jiang Zemin, then China's president.

…to mark President Hu Jintao's state visit here in January, it lit the Eiffel Tower in red and organized a noisy Chinese New Year parade down the Champs-Elysées. China, in contrast, is interested in absorbing French technology and considers Paris a useful partner in taming Washington's unilateralist instinct. More concretely, though, image-building through the Year of China in France fits into Beijing's long-term strategy of gaining acceptance as a global power and opening itself up to the world…

"We're talking here of good value for money," said Olivier Poivre d'Arvor, director of the French Association for Artistic Action, the French government's cultural arm abroad. "It's a small, almost derisory amount to pay in order to stimulate political and economic relations, to intensify relations at all levels. The $600,000 spent by Electricité de France on lighting up the Eiffel Tower in red was a splendid investment. It was an image that went round the world."

Oh, and by the way: how good is France — that epitome in humanitarianism, fraternal relations, tolerance, generosity, openness, the correct view of the world, true values, principles, democracy, blablabla (you know, Abu Ghraib, the Iraq war, Bush's "lies", American capitalism, the "moral cowardice" of fellow Europeans refusing to oppose Uncle Sam, etc) — at voicing "friendly" criticism at Beijing over its record on human rights and such? How good are the French at telling their Chinese "friends" (rather than their American ones) when it thinks the Chinese are wrong (and adding that friends don't always need to agree, but can be open and forthcoming when they think the friends are walking down the wrong path)? Consider the opening of the article…
Earlier this year, as part of a cultural extravaganza called the Year of China in France, a score of Chinese writers were invited as special guests of the annual Paris book fair. Gao Xingjian, the China-born, Paris-based novelist who won the 2000 Nobel literature prize, was pointedly not among them. The official explanation was that Gao is now a French citizen. The real reason was simpler: As an exile from the Beijing regime, he might have spoiled the party …too much was at stake to risk embarrassing Chinese officials.

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