Amid the controversy surrounding the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay, French retail giant Carrefour said for the first time that it remains committed to the Chinese market and will continue with plans to expand in the country.
In an exclusive interview with China Daily, Eric Legros, the French company's China president and CEO, also reaffirmed the company's full support of the Beijing Olympics and denied allegations of its involvement in the country's internal politics.
He expressed regret over the incident in Paris earlier this month, where the torch relay was marred by the violent activities of Tibetan separatists. Attempts to rob the torch from the disabled Chinese torchbearer Jin Jing infuriated Chinese, who later called for a boycott of the French supermarket chain during the upcoming May Day holidays.
"We feel really sorry about what happened in Paris," Legros said.
"It's a shame that in France the Olympic torch was not greeted with passion. We apologized, our ambassador in China apologized and French President Nicholas Sarkozy invited Jin Jing to revisit France."
In a letter delivered last week, Sarkozy invited Jin Jing, who protected the torch from a Tibetan separatist's attempt to snatch it away during the relay, to visit France again to "make up for the pain" she suffered.
Legros' reassurance comes at a time when anti-France tension continues to run high among Chinese. In a bid to show its support for the Beijing Games, Carrefour said it is putting out large-sized advertisements in major domestic newspapers to convey its good wishes for the capital.
Carrefour, which made its first foray into the China market in 1995, employs more than 45,000 local employees, accounting for 99 percent of its total staff. With 112 stores on the Chinese mainland, the company has reported annual sales of nearly 30 billion yuan ($4.28 billion) in China, with 99 percent of its products made in the country.
Legros said the company will open more than 20 stores on the mainland this year and hire about 8,000 Chinese.
Rather than a wholly French-owned company, Legros said a number of Carrefour's stores in China are joint ventures in which Chinese partners hold a share of between 30 and 40 percent. The company has been supporting the nation's efforts to promote energy-saving measures and food safety, Legros said.
"We have followed the Chinese policies with various projects, and did our best to bring our expertise and technology to the China market in the past years by training and promoting young Chinese managers. I believe someday our China president will be a Chinese rather than a French," he said.
"We hope we can turn over the unhappy page and come to the next chapter of friendship, and work hard to serve Chinese customers."
A number of residents yesterday welcomed the stance made by the retail giant reported recently - not supporting any political and religious organizations, and backing the Beijing Olympics.
"We are glad to see such a statement," said Wang Huan, a 26-year-old art teacher in Beijing.
"But we would like to see the stand made clear by the French government, especially the French president," Wang said.
Three top French envoys were in Beijing last week for talks to ease the bilateral tension caused by disruptions to the torch relay in Paris. Analysts also said the flurry of visits by senior French officials signaled Sarkozy's resolve to bring bilateral relations back on track.
1. How many local employees does Carrefour have?
2. How many stores does the company plan to open this year on the mainland?
3. Chinese residents voiced support for Carrefour’s recent political stance. What is it?
3. Not supporting any political and religious organizations, and backing the Beijing Olympics.
（英语点津 Helen 编辑）
About the broadcaster:
Jonathan Stewart is a media and journalism expert from the United States with four years of experience as a writer and instructor. He accepted a foreign expert position with chinadaily.com.cn in June 2007 following the completion of his Master of Arts degree in International Relations and Comparative Politics.