France's foreign minister insisted Tuesday that President Nicolas Sarkozy did not intend to offend China by meeting the Dalai Lama at the weekend, despite angry protests from Beijing, AFP reported.
"We did not want to cause offence to China, to the Chinese people or to Chinese leaders," Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a parliamentary committee on foreign affairs.
But Kouchner defended Sarkozy's decision to meet the Dalai Lama, saying he was free to meet whomever he chooses.
"We regret China's attitude. I hope things will get better. They will have to get better," he added.
In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said his country had already "expressed ourselves very clearly on the subject" and seeks "a spirit of dialogue, confidence and mutual respect" with China.
Sarkozy has sought to soften the impact of the meeting with the Dalai Lama and avoid a repetition of a backlash against French goods sparked by disruption of the Beijing Olympic torch relay in Paris earlier this year.
The French president said Monday that China was "one of the greats of the world" and that he "always thought there was only one China."
French business leaders have said they are worried about the trade implications of tense Franco-China relations.
Trade retaliation is one of the most potent weapons in China's arsenal as businesses all over the world compete for a piece of China's large economy, AP said.
China urged France on Tuesday to "take responsibility and concrete measures" to repair strained ties stemming from President Nicolas Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama, AP reported.
"China has never done anything that undermines the interests of France," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said.
"We urge the French side to take responsibility and concrete measures to correct the erroneous practice and create favorable conditions and atmosphere for the development of China-France relations."
Beijing did not say whether it was planning any economic sanctions against French businesses, according to AP.
China postponed a planned summit with the European Union, due to be hosted in the French city of Lyon earlier this month, in protest over Sarkozy's meeting.