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 (
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.
The French government said in March it expected China would choose French company Alstom to build a high-speed rail link between Beijing and Shanghai, a US$12 billion project also being sought by Japanese and German groups.
Carrefour, a French supermarket chain that ranks among the world's biggest, has also been aggressively rolling out new stores in China, in fierce competition with Wal-Mart of the US and Metro of Germany.
Other sectors where French firms have been actively chasing opportunities are in aviation, mobile telephones and auto manufacturing.
With business ties growing stronger, France appears keen to further the political tandem developing with China. Both countries, which have permanent seats on the UN Security Council, have shown they are not ready to bow to US hegemony.
In a sign of the importance Chirac gives to the relationship with China, he returned from a G8 summit in the US to see the Chinese vice premier, making no time to pay his last respects to the late US president Ronald Reagan.
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