PARIS, Oct 25, 1999 (Reuters) - Chinese President Jiang Zemin, on a state visit to France, on Monday rejected criticism of China's human rights record and said he was not sure what protesters he encountered on his foreign visits really wanted.
One demand was independence for Tibet, but he was convinced President Jacques Chirac did not support it, he told a joint news conference with his host.
Chirac, sounding defensive after being criticised for inviting Jiang to his private home in Correze in central France for the weekend, chose not to react to Jiang's comment.
As they met, a prominent French trade union leader blasted Beijing for what he said were its violations of workers' and especially women's rights and use of child labour.
Meanwhile in Beijing, police arrested several dozen members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement who had protested in Tiananmen Square against a draft law curbing cults.
Asked about protests during his visit to Britain and France, Jiang said: "I don't know their concerns exactly. In many countries I have visited, I have encountered this phenomenon."
Among demands he heard was one for Tibetan independence, "but I think Mr Chirac would not share this point of view," he said, stressing that he saw democracy not as an absolute but as a relative concept that had to be adapted to each country.
"The European Union criticised us recently in its annual report on human rights. For us, this is unfounded. It is interference with domestic affairs," he said.
"I told President Chirac that our countries differed in geography and level of development, so it is completely normal that there is a divergence on the issue of human rights."
Chirac noted strong agreement between France and China on key political issues, especially the need for an orderly multi- polar world, but divergences on human rights.
"We have an approach to humanistic values that is not the same," he said. "We talked about it for a very long time, without aggressiveness of course -- that would be useless -- but with conviction."
The French leader said China's role as a major power in the future would push it increasingly towards more democracy.
"I am convinced that, in view of the political and technological evolution of humanity, a major power will by necessity be democratic," he said.
About a dozen people from Amnesty International and the press freedom group Reporters sans Frontieres (RsF) plastered the facade of Air China's Paris office with posters slamming Beijing's human rights abuses and muzzling of the press.
RsF head Robert Menard was taken to a police station.
About 500 people protested in Paris on Sunday, waving Tibetan flags and denouncing Jiang as a dictator. As in Britain last week, human rights activists and Tibetan exiles complained that the police kept them far from the Chinese leader.
Marc Blondel, head of the Force Ouvriere (FO) trade union, said that in China "the fundamental labour standards of the International Labour Organisation are flouted on all levels" and urged Chirac to repeat earlier calls for more workers' rights.
Jiang, who said his long talk with Chirac in Correze on Saturday was the most frank he had ever had with a foreign leader, later met Prime Minister Lionel Jospin for lunch. Chirac was due to give a banquet in his honour on Monday evening.
Apart from his talks with Chirac, Jiang also announced at the weekend that China would buy 28 aircraft worth just under $2.5 billion from Europe's Airbus Industrie.
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