updated 7/10/2008 11:33:44 AM ET 2008-07-10T15:33:44

China sought to assure French visitors that they would receive a warm welcome at next month’s Olympic Games on Thursday, a day after President Nicolas Sarkozy ended the latest diplomatic spat by announcing he would attend the opening ceremony.

“We know that Chinese people enjoy a tradition of hospitality,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. “I believe that the Chinese people — when it comes to foreign leaders, citizens and athletes — will treat them with sincerity and hospitality.”

Relations between China and France have been strained since protesters angry about a Chinese security crackdown in Tibet disrupted the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay. In response, some Chinese citizens staged anti-France protests and organized boycotts of French retailer Carrefour and other French products.

Sarkozy further angered the Chinese when he became the first world leader to raise the possibility of skipping the Olympic opening ceremony to protest the way China quelled the anti-government protests in Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas of China.

An opening ceremony boycott would have been a slap in the face to China’s communist leadership, eager to use the Games to show off the country’s power and clout.

Last month, as his position started to shift, Sarkozy cautioned that a boycott could “push a population of 1.3 billion people into wounded nationalism.”

On Thursday, Sarkozy defended his decision to attend the ceremony, saying it would be wrong to “humiliate” China with a boycott, but added that he would raise human rights issues with Chinese leaders.

Liu noted that China and France generally have good relations.

“Of the recent difficulties in our bilateral relations, (Chinese) President Hu Jintao said this was not desirable and this is not China’s fault,” he said.

The foreign ministry spokesman did not say whether there would be specific measures in place to prevent anti-France protests during Sarkozy’s visit to Beijing.

However, the Chinese state media — which often fan nationalistic fervor when it is politically advantageous — has issued only short, factual reports on Sarkozy’s decision to attend the opening ceremony.

A commentary by Xinhuanet, the Web site of the official Xinhua News Agency, said many Chinese felt “repulsed” when Sarkozy said he may boycott the ceremony.

“Some Chinese said they don’t welcome Sarkozy coming to Beijing and that reaction is understandable,” the article said. “But since Sarkozy has made the right decision to attend the opening ceremony, we should welcome him as always, making him truly feel our magnanimity, enthusiasm and friendliness as Olympic host.”

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