China's Hu in state visit to France next month: officials

25th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

President Hu Jintao of China will make a state visit to France between November 4 and 6, a week before his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy assumes the G20 presidency, diplomats said Monday.

Ties between China and France had been tense in recent years following a number of diplomatic incidents, but Sarkozy visited Beijing in April to "turn a new page" and the countries now talk of enjoying a "global partnership."

France sees China as a huge potential market for its engineering expertise, and Sarkozy is particularly keen to maintain warm relations with Beijing as he prepares to take on the chairmanship of the G20 group of powers.

The first item on Sarkozy's G20 agenda will be reform of the world currency exchange system, at a time when China stands accused of slowing a weak global recovery by maintaining the yuan at an artificially high rate.

Sarkozy will take the rotating presidency on November 12, days after Hu's visit, and will want to seek to persuade him to soften Beijing's hardline stance, which threatens to provoke what observers have dubbed a "currency war."

Competitive devaluations by countries seeking to boost their own exports could endanger the world's slow recovery after the 2008 financial crisis, and some US politicians are agitating for protectionist measures.

Sarkozy will also talk about his broader G20 agenda, and may find common ground with China on measures to control the volatility of commodity markets and the reform of the management of the International Monetary Fund.

Relations between Paris and Beijing soured in March 2008, four months after Sarkozy's first state visit to China, when he expressed shock at a security crackdown in Chinese-ruled Tibet after protests led to deadly violence.

A month later, the Chinese leadership was again incensed when pro-Tibetan demonstrators booed and jostled the Olympic flame as it was carried through Paris on its way to the Beijing Games.

Tensions peaked in December 2008, when Sarkozy held an audience with the Dalai Lama -- whom Beijing accuses of seeking independence for his Tibetan homeland -- but easing when Sarkozy met Hu at a G20 summit in 2009.

Paris risked reigniting tension this month when it welcomed the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to a jailed Chinese dissident, but Sarkozy himself remained silent and allowed Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to speak for France.

Despite diplomatic tensions, France and China maintain important economic relations, and have an eight-billion-euro (11-billion-dollar) deal for China to build two French-designed latest generation EPR nuclear reactors.

© 2010 AFP

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