China and France set to sign deals during Xi visit

AFP, LYON, France

Thu, Mar 27, 2014 - Page 6

China and France were expected to sign scores of business deals on the first full day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) state visit yesterday after he was wined and dined in the gastronomic capital of Lyon.

France lags behind some European neighbors, most markedly Germany, in trade and investment links with China, but has worked hard to catch up, and accords in the aviation, nuclear, space, agriculture and urban development sectors are expected to be unveiled.

Details have been closely guarded by both sides. The only deal certain to be signed is one that will see Chinese firm Dongfeng take a stake in troubled French auto giant Peugeot.

An agreement on the joint construction of civilian helicopters between Airbus Helicopters and China is also expected.

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.

“My visit to France ... will allow me to work with President Francois Hollande ... to sum up 50 years of Sino-French relations and to plan the future together,” Xi said on Tuesday at a dinner in the city of Lyon, his first stop.

“Investments are welcome in France and we are mobilized to facilitate them,” French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius told Xi.

Hollande is to welcome Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan (彭麗媛) to the French presidential palace, where the two countries will sign the Dongfeng-Peugeot deal.

The couple’s three-day visit is scheduled to culminate in a concert at the Versailles palace, as the two countries celebrate 50 years of full diplomatic ties.

Ahead of his trip, Xi penned a column in French daily Le Figaro in which he paid tribute to former French president Charles de Gaulle’s 1964 decision to break ranks with the US and recognize communist China, paving the way for Beijing’s global acceptance.

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

The French Ministry of Finance is also organizing an economic forum set for today that is to gather together about 400 businesses.

“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 (US$35.7 billion) last year between the two countries.

The trip also carries a symbolic note, with Xi scheduled to make a major speech in Paris highlighting historical bonds such as the experiences of former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) and former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), who both studied in France.

Xi’s wife Peng, a famous singer and China’s first prominent first lady, is also a Francophile.

Peng has her own itinerary planned that is to see her named special UNESCO envoy for the promotion of women’s education.

The question of human rights in China is to have an impact on the visit amid an ongoing, government-backed crackdown on dissent, with Tibetan exiles planning a big rally in Paris today.

Since 2009, about 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in China in protests against the authorities, denouncing what they say is an erosion of their religious freedoms and culture and discrimination by the country’s Han majority.