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Familiarity, in This Case, Fosters Friendship
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One of "intimacy" is how he describes France's relationship with China. The two countries have never had major disagreements in the past, he says. And the future is bound to throw up a lot of things to bring them even closer.

Talking about the future brings French ambassador Herve Ladsous to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. It will be grand spectacle, he says. "I think it's going to be a marvelous success. We know that a lot of work has been done in terms of construction of venues and reducing pollution."

Ladsous is not interested in the talk of boycott that props up now and then because that "will never be a policy of the French government".

"On the contrary," he says, "2008 will be a major opportunity for China to meet the world (at home) and achieve great success."

That will be a special occasion for France, too, because it was the first country with which China sealed a comprehensive strategic partnership. That partnership has continued exceedingly well for a decade now. In fact, it has reached a point where "we can use the term intimacy" to describe it, says the 57-year-old ambassador.

"Intimacy means we have confidence in each other, we have equal understanding," says Ladsous, who loves to use Chinese words and phrases during his interview, which essentially is in English. Actually, he can speak Putonghua quite well, and has plans to take lessons to improve his Chinese. Besides, he can speak German, Spanish and a little bit of Arabic, too.

Thanks to "equal understanding", a high-level bilateral meeting has already been held, he says, referring to the first meeting between President Hu Jintao and French President Nicolas Sarkozy during the recent G8 summit in Germany. President Sarkozy is certain about one thing: China is a central player in many of the world issues today, Ladsous says.

China has been there for "us irrespective of the issues or questions" so it is our natural partner. "You should realize that President Sarkozy symbolizes a new generation of people in power - those who were not born before or during World War II - so his vision is very modern, very 21st century."

"For him (Sarkozy), China is a key element and an indispensable partner (that can help) to find solutions to some of the major issues facing the world. (That's why) Sarkozy wants to consolidate the partnership with China. Today's world is a difficult world, it is full of crises. Some are global, some regional, and we have to work together to resolve them."

As permanent United Nations Security Council members, both countries have special duties and responsibilities, Ladsous says. "We have to work together", keep one another fully informed and discuss regularly ways to deal with world issues such as anti-terrorism, the Iran and Korean Peninsula nuclear issues, crises in Africa and the Middle East, and the problems facing Asia.

The cultural exchanges between China and France are two centuries' old, he says. Which means the bond is old enough for the two countries to work together to resolve major global issues, especially because they agree on ways to deal with a lot of them.

"In the 18th century when contacts (between the two countries) were very few, the French had a dream image about China (and they were right). Many artists in France, a hundred or more years ago, were deeply influenced by Chinese art." Chinese music and painting have always fascinated the French.

Having worked in China for more than two decades, from political counselor in the French embassy in Beijing to deputy consul in Hong Kong, Ladsous has been closely following the country's development.

And what has his impression been? "It's interesting to see China become so much more transparent," he says. "When I compare it to 20 years ago when I was (first) here, it's very different."

Ladsous still remembers how Chinese culture was presented in his country in 2004, when lights were used to literally paint the Eiffel Tower red to celebrate the "Year of China" in France. The two countries are willing to increase cultural exchanges. It's important to protect one's culture because only then can "we maintain cultural diversity" in the world.

"I was in Paris at that time (in 2004). Hundreds of thousands of people had turned up to watch the huge and colorful parade on Champs Elyses. It reflected the depth of friendship between our societies and our peoples." A photo of the Eiffel Tower, illuminated red, hangs on the wall outside the French Embassy office in Beijing.

"I put it here so that every one who visits my office sees it because it is a symbol of our friendship," he says.

Ladsous' fascination with Asia, particularly China, started as a child. He began studying Chinese and Malay when he was a law student at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Culture in Paris. "I worked in the French embassy in China more than 20 years ago. After that, I started moving around the world." Ladsous has been France's ambassador to Indonesia, too.

"What interests me most is Chinese history. It is fascinating because of its continuity. century after century after century," he says. Many Chinese people think Paris is one of the most romantic and artistic cities in the world. But Ladsous has found those artistic and romantic elements in Beijing, too.

"I love Beijing. The modernization of the city is tremendous, but there still are many old buildings, beautiful gardens and museums," he says. "I love Chinese contemporary art, especially modern art," says the ambassador, who frequently visits Beijing's famous 798 Arts Zone.

With such a lover of Chinese history and culture in charge of French diplomatic affairs in China, one can only expect bilateral ties to blossom.

(China Daily via agencies July 6, 2007)

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