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French Press Review 8 January 2018
Emmanuel Macron in China. France's troubled railways. And, what ever happened to "Je suis Charlie."
The on-line edition of le Monde looks at the visit to China of the French President Emmanuel Macron.
Under the headline "Human rights, spine of Presidential trips to China," the paper says "The problem of the lack of respect for fundamental rights has been constantly in the news before Macron's trip to Xi'an and Beijing, from 8 to 10 January."
"Presidential visits to China are not the best time to raise the issue of human rights," le Monde admits.
However, it continues, "the problem of the lack of respect for fundamental rights has not ended."
As a vivid example, the paper cites the case of activist Wu Ga, known as the "super vulgar butcher" because of his energy, who was sentenced on 26 December 2017 to eight years in prison for subversion.
He was accused of conspiring with "professional petitioners, lawyers and people involved in illegal religious activities" to overthrow the socialist system under the guise of "artistic performance" and "advocacy." In short, le Monde observes, what everywhere else would be considered "civil society."
Needless to say, there's no shortage of other examples and the paper recalls several. Including that of Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. She is not charged with any crime, but remains under constant control. She wants to leave China but is forbidden from doing do.
Serious newspaper that it is, le Monde doesn't have high hopes of Macron's making a difference.
"On the side of the Elysée Palace," it says "Reproaches to the Chinese must be subtle." Le Monde notes that the Elysée announced that representatives of the legal profession will be in the French delegation pursuing continuing cooperation over the rule of law and justice.
So, don't expect to hear much on this from the President or his entourage.
On its front page, beneath a huge photo of the much loved French pop singer, France Gall, who has died at the age of 70, Libération anticipates "Three Day in Beijing." Where, it says "The head of state begins a highly anticipated visit to China where he intends to pose as a privileged interlocutor, taking advantage of Trump's inconsistencies and the domestic problems of May and Merkel."
The paper anticipates what looks to be a more realistic agenda for Macron and his Chinese hosts.
"Climate, North Korea, trade, making his first trip to China, the Head of State wants to make Beijing a key partner," says Libé. "And embody the leadership of a Europe in the process of restructuring."
And, doubtless and not unreasonably, to tie up business deals; about fifty are expected. At the same time, the paper argues "Macron should especially seek more open access to Chinese markets. It's with China that France records its largest trade deficit: 30 billion euros." Paris must target the colossal Chinese middle class market, Libé says.
Le Figaro's spotlight is on an issue closer to home. "The government puts pressure on the SNCF." The SNCF is France state owned and operated railway network - all 30,000 kilometres of it.
"After the breakdowns and the bugs, the bosses of the company are expected in the office of the Transport minister Élisabeth Borne this afternoon for a session of explanations," the paper reports.
Why? The paper reminds us that SNCF has been in turmoil since last summer, with breakdowns, overcrowding, accidents and countless individual horror stories. I have a few of my own. Customer dissatisfaction is at an unprecedented 70 per cent.
Le Figaro congratulates the government for demanding answers. Though, in truth, summoning the bosses for a telling off may be little more than PR.
One answer has been available for some time. While the state has thrown money at the very expensive TGV system, France's much admired high speed trains, the flip side has been three decades of chronic under-investment in the traditional network.
Le Figaro knows what needs to be done. "The state has put its hand in the pocket . . . to invest 34 Billion euro in the network over the next ten years."
The Catholic daily la Croix reflects on the 3rd anniversary of the massacre of staff of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. "Three years on," the paper laments, "nothing remains of what it calls "the Spirit of January 11 when million throughout France took to the streets to declare 'I am Charlie'."
At the time, the paper says, the desire was to live together rather than be at war with each other. This, of course, is a reference to France's mix of religious faiths and ethnic origins.
"Today", says la Croix "that spirit has gone and all that remains is the memory of spilt blood."
The communist daily l'Humanité takes a different view. "Permit us to say that from Charlie to today, through the attacks at the Batacalan (where three Jihadists slaughtered 90 people at a rock concert) to the muder of father Jacques Hamel (the elderly priest whose throat was cut by Jihadists as he celebrated mass) the popular reaction has been of expemplary dignity," declares the paper's editorial.
Take your pick.