Sun, Jun 13, 2004 - Page 11 News List

For France-China trade, visit cements cooperation

EVER-CLOSER UNION The French president, a known Sinophile, has pulled out all the stops to woo China, and Beijing seems to be rewarding his efforts with cash

AFP , PARIS

French President Jacques Chirac, right, speaks with Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Zeng Peiyan during a bilateral trade meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, Friday. China signed a number of contracts with France, including one to buy US$2 billion worth of Airbus passenger planes as well as a French-made TV satellite.

PHOTO: AP

France and China signed billions of dollars' worth of trade contracts Friday during a visit to Paris by Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan (曾培炎), cementing ties that have grown noticeably closer in recent months.

Airbus, the European aircraft maker based in the French city of Toulouse, announced it had inked a US$2 billion deal to supply 20 A330-300 planes to the airline China Eastern.

The aerospace subsidiary of the French telecommunications group Alcatel said it had sold a television satellite to the company ChinaSat to be operational in time for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Industry sources said that contract was worth around US$120 million.

Those and another seven contracts involving technical cooperation in the construction of nuclear energy plants, helicopters, planes and trains were signed in the presence of Zeng and French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

"If each time we meet we sign as many agreements with so many jobs behind them as these agreements, I believe our cooperation with China will be very fruitful. It already is," Raffarin said.

Zeng, who is vice premier in charge of economy, met later Friday with President Jacques Chirac, who warmly welcomed the new contracts and agreements.

"They demonstrate that our companies are engaged in a true partnership process," he said.

Chirac's office confirmed that he would make a trip to China in October -- his third state visit to the country in seven years -- at the start of the Year of France in China, a series of events celebrating French culture and heritage.

The Chinese official's visit, and the high protocol greeting he was getting, underlined the relationship that is blossoming between France and China.

A known Sinophile, Chirac has pulled out all the stops to woo what has become the world's biggest emerging market, home to 1.2 billion people and boasting a red-hot economy that has expanded by nearly 10 percent this year.

When Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) made a four-day trip to France in January, he was treated to a privileged reception that included lighting the Eiffel Tower red for the occasion and an invitation to address parliament.

Since then, the two countries have forged closer links in the areas of politics, culture and -- most importantly -- trade.

Paris has moved away from its support of Taiwan and has restricted protests by overseas members of Falun Gong, the spiritual group declared illegal and subversive in China. It has also taken to avoiding criticism of China's poor human rights record.

In March, the two countries' navies carried out the biggest joint exercises China has ever held with a foreign country, near the northeastern Chinese port city of Qingdao.

France has declared this year the "Year of China," making the country the guest of honour at bookfairs, film festivals, and other cultural events -- and the close collaboration will continue throughout the "Year of France" in China, from October until July next year.

Later this year, France is to lend China 50 paintings worth 500 million euros by artists including Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir for what will be the largest ever exhibition of impressionist art in Asia.

The upshot has been some sweet opportunities for French businesses looking to grab pieces of the Chinese market from US and other competitors.

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