BEIJING -- Angry Chinese nationalists are gathering online momentum for a boycott of French products in protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to meet the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, this weekend.
Beijing has already warned Paris about Sarkozy's decision and and said it forced the government to postpone a planned EU-China summit, but some citizens want a more tangible response to what they see as a slight to national pride.
"I am using my real name to swear to the French: I am going to boycott French goods for my whole life. I will never use French brands or any product made in France," said one poster, who identified himself as Yan Zhongjie. A first boycott call put online earlier this week has been blocked, probably by government censors wary of anger that escalated into widespread protests after the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay was disrupted by anti-China protesters.
But cached records show it was seen by nearly 850,000 readers and notched up 90,000 comments before it disappeared.
Fiery nationalists like Yan see the Dalai Lama as a Machiavellian separatist who wants to split China just as it is rising to international power after over a century of humiliation, poverty and political impotence.
The elderly monk, ultimate spiritual and political leader for millions of Tibetans, says he does not seek independence, only autonomy, for his people, because he fears their cultural and religious traditions are being slowly crushed.
He fled into exile in 1959 after a failed insurrection against Chinese rule in Tibet, and is now based in India but travels the world promoting Tibetan issues, to the irritation of Beijing and many ordinary Chinese.
"Our country must speak out on this affair, make some kind of protest. This can't be tolerated," said retiree Lan Fusheng, heading out of French-owned boycott target Carrefour.
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou on Friday also said the Dalai Lama would eventually be welcome on the self-ruled democratic island which Beijing claims as a renegade province.
He had earlier come under huge pressure from Buddhist groups after quashing hopes for a 2009 visit, saying the time was wrong, as his government works to improve relations with Beijing.
China's government, while it has been unusually vehement on an issue that always raises hackles, still seems keen to keep nationalist sentiment as low key as is politically feasible.
Although there is a massive French presence in China, and much for companies like Carrefour to lose, China has a trade surplus with the European nation and antagonising key partners during a global slowdown could be risky.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said on Thursday that Sarkozy's proposed meeting with the Dalai Lama had caused "a lot of dissatisfaction" with the Chinese people, but also called on the public to be "calm and rational."
But even web users who have not joined the boycott calls are infuriated by the meeting.
"Sarkozy is a typical flip-flopping runt," said one posting on the website of the official People's Daily newspaper (www.people.com.cn).
"China should stiffen its spine on issues of sovereignty and take a harder line against Europe and America."
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