China's Hu heads to France for state visit
Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives in France Thursday for a state visit expected to yield billions of euros' (dollars') worth of trade deals.
Hu is due to touch down with his wife Liu Yongqing at 1:30 pm (1330 GMT) at Paris's Orly airport where he will meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy and receive military honours before being driven to his Paris hotel.
Sarkozy and Hu hold their first round of bilateral talks at the Elysee Palace at 1600 GMT and will then sign "lots of contracts, large and small" before a full state dinner, a presidential official said Wednesday.
The deals are expected to include a purchase by China of Airbus aircraft, nuclear energy deals for French company Areva and a contract between French insurance firm Axa and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
The value of the deals "will be far greater than during any previous visit by European leaders to Beijing or by Chinese leaders abroad," the presidential official said, declining to give a precise figure.
During Sarkozy's first state visit to China in November 2007, French companies signed contracts worth 20 billion euros (28 billion dollars).
Activists complain France is keeping human rights off the menu for the visit, a delicate encounter given the economic stakes and Sarkozy's preparation for his upcoming presidency of the G20 group of economic powers.
The leaders will toast each other at the state dinner on Thursday evening -- the only official public statements scheduled by the two.
They have not scheduled a joint news conference during the visit -- an exceptional departure from state visit procedures, criticised by campaigners who want Hu to be pressed on the issue of human rights.
Campaigners criticised Sarkozy for not speaking out in favour of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, whose Nobel Peace Prize enraged Beijing when it was announced last month.
It is the Chinese leader's first official foreign trip since the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Liu the prize.
On Friday, Hu is due to meet business leaders for more contracts, visit a war memorial at Paris' Arc de Triomphe and meet with French Prime Minister Francois Fillon before flying south to the Riviera city of Nice.
There he and Sarkozy are due to hold further bilateral talks and dine at a restaurant on Friday evening. Hu will visit a nearby Schneider Electric factory on Saturday before flying on to Portugal, the Elysee official said.
France and China have had tense diplomatic relations in recent years, notably over French meetings with the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, but they maintain important economic ties and relations have warmed since 2009.
On his second state visit to Beijing in April, Sarkozy hailed China as a "strategic partner" and Hu has made warm comments about France in the run-up to this week's visit.
© 2010 AFP