With praise for the French president and appeals for calm, China's leadership signaled Tuesday that it is ready to put an end to anti-France sentiment that has swept the country since the chaotic Olympic torch relay in Paris.
France and high-profile French retailer Carrefour have been singled out by Chinese nationalists who felt insulted by the raucous protests by pro-Tibetan groups and others during the torch run through the French capital.
Anger over the disruption, coupled with comments by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that he might boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, swelled into demonstrations over the weekend at the French Embassy in Beijing and at Carrefour stores in nine Chinese cities.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Tuesday that the Carrefour demonstrations were "encouraging and touching," but she added that "we do not agree with some people's radical actions."
"We also hope that the French side can respond positively to the aspirations of the Chinese people so that our bilateral relations can proceed smoothly and healthily," the spokeswoman said.
Stern tone is moderated
The distinctly upbeat remarks marked a departure from the stern tone Jiang and other officials have adopted in recent weeks in responding to criticism of China's crackdown on Tibetans and its treatment of dissidents.
Though protesters also disrupted torch relay runs in London and San Francisco, the Paris leg has been a lightning rod of criticism by Chinese.
The indignation stems in large part from widely circulated pictures of a pro-Tibetan protester in Paris trying to wrestle the torch from the grasp of a disabled Chinese fencer. The woman, Jin Jing, has been hailed by Chinese as a national hero — the "smiling angel in a wheelchair."
Seeking to calm Chinese anger, France's president sent an emotional letter to "Mademoiselle Jin Jing," praising her "remarkable courage" and extending an invitation to visit as his personal guest.
"This friendly move by President Sarkozy is appreciated by the Chinese people," said Jiang, the ministry spokeswoman.
Familiar pattern on protests
Beijing's move to rein in the nationalist outburst follows a familiar pattern. Authorities used state media to order students back to class and put a quick end to previous protests, such as those that followed the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, and the 2001 collision of a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet.
The latest surge in nationalism has been accompanied by a backlash against Western media organizations, especially CNN, for what is perceived as biased reporting on the unrest in Tibet. Foreign journalists have received angry phone calls and e-mails, including some death threats.
Even amid the changed tone Tuesday, China stood firm on its hard line against the Dalai Lama, whose supporters have been accused by Beijing of directing deadly rioting that swept over Tibet's capital, Lhasa, on March 14.
Jiang blasted the Paris city council's action Monday to bestow the title of "honorary citizen" on the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader. However, in a step underlining Beijing's desire to rein in anger, she did so only in a statement posted on the ministry's Web site.
"This action wantonly interferes in China's internal affairs, seriously harms the relations between China and France," particularly ties between Paris and Beijing, the statement said.
The decision to honor the Dalai Lama will "only be considered as another insult against the 1.3 billion Chinese people, including Tibetans," Jiang said.
Beijing has called the Lhasa riot and copycat protests in other Tibetan areas an attempt to split off China's far western region and sabotage the Beijing Games.
As part of efforts to smooth relations, Sarkozy's letter to Jin was personally delivered by French Senate President Christian Poncelet, who was also scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and several other top leaders.
Former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was to meet with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao this week, while Jean-David Levitte, Sarzoky's top diplomatic envoy, was to hold consultations with senior foreign policy adviser Dai Bingguo.