Chinese media tries to halt boycott


BEIJING -- Chinese official media have sought to temper nationalist calls to boycott foreign businesses accused of backing Tibetan independence, urging angry citizens to focus on economic development.

Chinese Internet sites have been awash with calls to stop buying French goods and stop shopping at Carrefour stores after Tibet protesters in Paris upset the Beijing Olympics torch relay.

Following prominent local news reports, Chinese officials and citizens have also vented outrage at a commentator on CNN television who spoke of Chinese "goons" and "junk" products.

But in a sign that Beijing may be moving to cool public anger, Xinhua news agency called for "patriotic zeal to concentrate on development."

The official commentary that appeared late on Thursday night said the boycott demands were an "unadorned expression of patriotic zeal and a sincere demonstration of public opinion."

But it balanced the praise with a warning not to challenge the government's policies of opening to foreign investment.

"Patriotic zeal must enter onto a rational track and must be transformed into concrete actions to do one's own work well," said the commentary widely distributed in the Chinese media.

"Thirty years of reform and opening up have created a China miracle. ... But we must be crystal clear that for China that has endured so much, the future road will not be all smooth-going."

Many Chinese people are proud about the Beijing Olympic Games in August, and the government has waged a propaganda war against the exiled Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of masterminding riots in Tibet's regional capital Lhasa last month and other Tibetan areas in neighboring provinces.

Beijing says the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader sought to upstage Olympics preparations and a multi-national torch relay. The Dalai Lama has rejected the allegations, speaking out against the violence and backing the Beijing Olympics.

The Xinhua commentary echoes official handling of earlier upsurges of popular nationalism when officials sought to rein in volatile anger that could turn against the government.

In 1999, after NATO mistakenly bombed Beijing's Embassy in Belgrade during the war against Serbia and killed three Chinese nationals, angry students and citizens surrounded and stoned the U.S. embassy in Beijing and attacked U.S. consulates.

Hu Jintao, then Chinese vice president and now president, took the lead in cooling those protests, demanding "social stability" and urging people to focus on development.

This time French companies are the main target with activists calling for a boycott of retailer Carrefour, accusing it of helping fund the Dalai Lama.

Some angry citizens have protested in front of Carrefour stores in Chinese cities, holding banners opposing Tibetan independence and calling for shoppers to shun the retailer, media reports said.

An opinion poll in 10 Chinese cities found 66% of respondents would support the Carrefour boycott, according to a report on the Xinhua Web site. Only 7% said outright that they would not.

But past nationalist boycott campaigns against U.S. and Japanese companies have fizzled with little effect on sales.

One commentator said "narrow nationalism" risked hurting China's image and hurting domestic economic interests.

"To boycott Carrefour is to boycott Chinese people themselves, because their staff here are Chinese and most of their goods are Chinese-made," said the comment that appeared in a central Chinese newspaper Web site.