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Chinese tourists say 'non' to France
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The past few weeks have seen a sharp decline in the number of Chinese people traveling to France, the French Ambassador to China said on Monday.

However, rumors of an officially imposed boycott by the Chinese government are untrue, Herve Ladsous said, adding that he hopes the two countries will continue to seek friendly tourism exchanges.

"The number of visas issued to Chinese tourists has fallen by about two-thirds recently," Ladsous said at a press briefing.

"But I have spoken with Chinese tourism officials who told me the Chinese government has not issued any notices discouraging tourists from going to France, and I believe them," Ladsous said.

The French Embassy in Beijing said the number of visas issued to Chinese tourists has fallen by 70 percent over the past three weeks, compared with the same period last year.

In the first few weeks of this month, the embassy was issuing an average of just 300-400 tourist visas per week, down from about 2,000 a week over the same period last year, Ladsous said.

Qin Gang, spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, said recently that the Chinese government follows the principle that people from different countries should enjoy more exchanges so as to better understand each other.

According to the Shanghai Morning News, the recent decrease in the number of Shanghai residents traveling to Europe - including France - is due to difficulties getting visas and rising airfares.

The Sichuan earthquake and fluctuations in the stock market have also forced many people to change their travel plans, the paper said.

However, following the disruption of the Olympic torch relay in Paris in April, opinion polls have shown that many Chinese now have negative feelings toward France.

Ladsous said he was concerned by the damage to France's image and said he hoped the situation will soon improve.

"China-France relations are built on a solid foundation and have historic significance. I have spoken to many Chinese people who all expressed hope for further cooperation between the countries," he said.

China and France should work together to improve relations through various channels such as official meetings and people-to-people exchanges, Ladsous said. "We should look at bilateral relations from a historic standpoint. I hope they can get back on track soon," he said.

(China Daily June 24,2008)

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