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Last Updated: Monday, 11 October, 2004, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Chirac tour falls flat for French

President Jacques Chirac has been busy talking up the advantages of trade with France on his current Asian tour - but back home the newspapers have been lukewarm on his performance.

The right-leaning Le Figaro says the "large hoped-for contracts in aeronautics and nuclear power have not materialised during his visit".

"Half-way through, the trip to China - presented at first as a concerted offensive to conquer the Chinese market - seems to have put the Elysee on the defensive," it comments.

The left-leaning daily Liberation is critical of France's apparent desire to strike a deal despite concerns about human rights: "In total, nearly 4bn euros has been advanced as justification for the ambiguities and political complacency of this state visit".

Outburst in Vietnam

But at no point was the press more surprised with Mr Chirac than on 8 October, in Hanoi, when he attended a question-and-answer session with Vietnamese students.

"Hoping to convince his audience of the need to defend their cultural uniqueness, Jacques Chirac gave in to his little weakness: lambasting US omnipotence," commented Le Figaro.

President Chirac speaking at Shanghai's Tongji University
Chirac in Shanghai: "France is a natural partner for China"

Mr Chirac "delivered a diatribe against the United States, which he accused outright of wanting to impose 'an overall sub-culture throughout the world'", wrote Liberation.

The papers seemed bemused and unimpressed by Mr Chirac's pronouncements on American cultural hegemony.

The centre-right daily Le Monde described the event as "one generality after another, in a stiff atmosphere".

"Was Jacques Chirac really awake?" the paper asked, noting his fumbling with cue-cards and that at one point he "comes close to overheating and casts his cue-cards to the wind - not necessarily a great idea".

Franco-US tensions

Mr Chirac had two main points. The first was to defend cultural diversity against domination by any one language, and thus promote French.

"French is a useful language in economic terms," Liberation quoted him as saying. "Nothing would be worse for humanity than if there were only one language. That would narrow down thought," he said.

The second point was that all cultural media - cinema, books, the arts - were threatened.

"There is a tendency towards a prevailing Anglo-Saxon culture which eclipses the others. If we accepted our American friends' ideas, there would quite quickly be only one form of cultural expression, and all the others would be stifled to the sole benefit of American culture," he said, quoted by Liberation.

Le Figaro was sceptical of Mr Chirac defence of subsidies for cultural exports - a source of friction with the United States in the World Trade Organisation. He warned his Vietnamese audience that without special subsidies and help "you would only have American films on your screens".

Le Figaro's main conclusion is "it remains to be seen" whether his arguments for the French vision of the WTO over the US one won the day. And it thought that when asked about the value of French language and culture for Vietnam, Mr Chirac "was less convincing than when he talks about the [8th Century] Chinese poet Du Fu".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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