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French roll out red carpet for Chinese president

AFP/The Local · 25 Mar 2014, 10:37

Published: 25 Mar 2014 10:37 GMT+01:00

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France rolls out the red carpet for China's leader on Tuesday as he arrives for a nostalgia-tinged trip expected to include the signing of some blockbuster business deals.

President Xi Jinping and his glamorous wife Peng Liyuan will be given VIP treatment on their four-day visit to France with a state dinner in Paris and a concert at the Versailles palace, as the two countries celebrate 50 years of full diplomatic ties.

But all eyes will be on a major signing ceremony on Wednesday afternoon during which deals in the aviation, nuclear, space, agriculture and urban development sectors are expected to be announced.

Details of most of these agreements have been closely guarded by both sides with the only accord certain to be signed one which will see stricken French auto giant Peugeot hand partial control to Chinese firm Dongfeng and the French state.

An agreement on the joint construction of civilian helicopters between Airbus Helicopters and China is also expected, and a big plane order is reportedly on the cards.

When French President Francois Hollande visited China in April last year, Xi welcomed him with a pledge to buy 60 Airbus planes and there could be more to come.

Luc Oursel, head of French nuclear giant Areva, last week said he was hoping for the signature of several agreements, as negotiations continue on the construction in China of a nuclear waste reprocessing plant.

France's finance ministry is organising an economic forum on Thursday that will gather together some 400 businesses, as it tries to revive flagging trade

"Our economic and trade relationship with China is marked by a strong imbalance," the French foreign ministry said, pointing to a trade deficit of 25.8 billion euros ($35.7 billion) last year between the two countries. 

At the end of 2012, France's total investments in China came to 16.7 billion euros, four times more than Chinese investments in France.

The trip is also due to touch on political matters, as the crisis in Ukraine continues to dominate the international agenda. China earlier this month lodged a rare abstention on a Western-backed UN Security Council resolution condemning a Moscow-backed secession referendum in Crimea, rather than vetoing it along with ally Russia.

Xi discussed the issue with his US counterpart Barack Obama on the margins of a nuclear security summit in the Hague on Monday, and while the subject will also be addressed with Hollande, the Chinese leader is unlikely to make any groundbreaking statements in public.

The trip also carries a symbolic note as it marks 50 years since France became the first Western power to establish full diplomatic relations with the Communist government, paving the way for Beijing's global acceptance.

Xi is scheduled to make a major speech in Paris highlighting historical bonds such as the experiences of Communist Party luminaries Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, who both studied in France.

Story continues below…

The Chinese president kicks off his France trip in Lyon, which historically had strong links with China due to its former status as a "silk city" from the 16th century.

The question of human rights will also never be far from the trip, amid an ongoing, government-backed crackdown on dissent and as minorities continue to suffer discrimination, according to activists.

Tibetan exiles plan rallies in Lyon and Paris to protest what they say is oppressive Chinese rule over Tibetan areas.

Since 2009, some 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in China in suicide protests against authorities as they denounce an erosion of their religious freedoms and culture and discrimination by the country's Han majority.

AFP/The Local (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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