French President Nicolas Sarkozy begins a three-day state visit to China tomorrow, with business deals and the environment at the top of his agenda.
"We would like to establish strong relations with China at a moment when relations between Beijing and certain Western countries have become more tense," an official in Sarkozy's office said before the visit.
Chinese officials have simply called the visit "important."
"The Chinese Eldorado has attracted French companies on a massive scale, but we have some catching up to do," the French official said.
Some 800 French companies are active in China, and Sarkozy will be bringing some 40 business leaders with him, including Anne Lauvergeon of French nuclear giant Areva, Patrick Kron of engineering group Alstom and Louis Gallois of aerospace giant EADS, the parent company of passenger jet company Airbus.
During the visit Sarkozy hopes to be able to preside over the signing of several major deals, including in nuclear energy and air transport, his spokesman David Martinon said.
Areva and Alstom are hoping to conclude the sale of two third-generation European pressurized water reactors.
Chinese airlines could place orders for up to 150 Airbus passenger jets, the French daily La Tribune reported yesterday.
French utility Electricite de France is also working toward an investment with its Chinese partner CGNPC in nuclear reactors.
Sarkozy will be taking seven ministers and top officials along, but not the foreign ministry's top human rights official, Rama Yade.
But Sarkozy "will raise this question with top Chinese leaders, as he did in other cases with [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin and other presidents," Martinon said.
"The key to the visit" is "the word environment," said Jean-David Levitte, a diplomatic adviser to Sarkozy.
On "increasing energy efficiency, there are powerful companies such as Suez, Veolia or Lafarge which could share their know-how," he said.
Suez CEO Gerard Mestrallet and Veolia-Environment chief Henri Proglio are also accompanying the president on the visit.
Sarkozy, who will talk about the environment with Chinese students at Beijing's Tsinghua University on Tuesday, also hopes to sign a declaration on the subject with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao (
"If it takes place it will be the first time the Chinese have signed a bilateral declaration on the subject of the environment," an official in Sarkozy's office said.
The French president is also expected to urge Chinese authorities to revalue the yuan to help balance bilateral trade.
"We want to establish a harmonious and just relationship between the dollar, euro, yen and yuan," an official from Sarkozy's office said. "The president will say again that we must establish a more equitable relationship between the four currencies.
French and Chinese leaders are also expected to touch on international issues such as Iran's controversial nuclear program and the crisis in Darfur.
Sarkozy will kick off his first visit to Asia in the former imperial capital of Xian. He will have dinner with Hu and later address business leaders at the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China.
Sarkozy will also hold talks and have dinner with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) on Monday in Beijing.