China's Hu meets with Sarkozy on lucrative state visit
Chinese President Hu Jintao met with France's Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday to sign contracts worth billions of dollars in nuclear, aviation and energy deals at the start of a state visit.
Sarkozy and Hu went in for their first round of talks late Thursday afternoon at the French leader's Elysee Palace, where they were due to discuss major trade deals before a full state dinner.
Sarkozy and France's First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy had earlier greeted Hu after the Chinese leader's plane landed at Paris's Orly airport, where guards lined up to give Hu military honours.
"China should not be seen as a threat, but an opportunity," Sarkozy said.
"We are going to sign very large contracts, we're going to begin very important discussions on the eve of France's taking on the presidency of the G20. It's a very big deal," he said, shortly before Hu's arrival.
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 total value of the deals "will be far greater than during any previous visit by European leaders to Beijing," a presidential official said on Wednesday, declining to predict a precise figure before the meeting.
Franco-American telecoms giant Alcatel-Lucent scooped the first contracts, announcing deals with three Chinese operators -- China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom -- worth a total 1.17 billion euros (1.66 billion dollars).
Meanwhile, local authorities announced a new 500-million-euro Franco-Chinese business district in Chateauroux, central France, is due to create 4,000 jobs -- most of them in France -- when it opens in 2012.
During Sarkozy's first state visit to China in November 2007, French companies signed contracts worth 20 billion euros (28 billion dollars).
Activists and the Socialist opposition complain France has kept human rights off the menu for the visit, a tense encounter given the high economic stakes and Sarkozy's preparation for his presidency of the Group of 20 rich and emerging market countries.
Sarkozy shook Hu's hand and ushered him into the Elysee with no comment by either leader to reporters.
They will toast each other at the state dinner on Thursday evening -- the only official public statements scheduled by the two.
They will not hold a joint news conference, an exceptional departure from state visit procedures that has been criticised by campaigners who want Hu to be pressed on the issue of human rights.
Around 200 activists, many of them waving the banners of Tibet and Xinxiang -- Chinese provinces with separatist leanings -- gathered by the Eiffel Tower to demand that France raise the rights issue during the visit.
"When you host someone, you need to receive them well, and it's not through criticising people that you move things forward, it's by trying to understand them," Sarkozy said.
The visit comes at a delicate moment for Sarkozy, who wants to bring China on board with plans for global currency reform when France takes over the G20 presidency next week.
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.
On Friday, Hu is due to meet business leaders for more contracts, visit a war memorial at Paris's 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 Hu will visit a nearby Schneider Electric factory on Saturday before heading on to Portugal.
France and China have had tense diplomatic relations in recent years, notably over French meetings with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, but they maintain important economic ties and relations have warmed since 2009.
© 2010 AFP