China's Hu seals France ties ahead of G20
China's President Hu Jintao wrapped up a lavish state visit to France on Saturday after throwing his weight behind its upcoming G20 presidency and plans for global financial reform.
Hu took off from the southern resort of Nice, bound for Lisbon according to the French presidency, which claimed a diplomatic success in winning China's backing for when it heads the Group of 20 economic powers from November 13.
Officials gave no details of Hu's schedule in Lisbon but analysts said that trip was likely part of China's drive to buy up cheap government debt in countries like Portugal which have been hit hard by the financial crisis.
There were small-scale protests by human rights activists in France, but officials regarded the meetings as a success, having also secured more than 20 billion dollars in contracts for French firms.
One of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's advisers said Hu and Sarkozy reached a "true convergence of views" in their talks on France's G20 plans.
Analysts do not expect China to give much ground on calls for it to allow its currency to appreciate in order to rebalance global trade flows, but Hu's endorsement was considered vital to Sarkozy's plans.
Sarkozy told journalists that he and Hu had discussed the "really necessary reforms of the international monetary system and regulation of commodities prices to try to have a world that is more balanced, more stable."
Sarkozy said he also broached the sensitive topic of human rights, after complaints by activists that he was avoiding the subject because of the high economic and diplomatic stakes of the visit.
Speaking as he arrived at a chic restaurant near the Nice seafront for the dinner on Friday, Sarkozy said the two discussed "all subjects... without taboos."
Pressed on whether he had brought up the question of human rights, Sarkozy replied: "Certainly. President Hu Jintao is someone you can talk with."
Activists and political opponents had criticised Sarkozy for not speaking up in favour of the jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last month in a move that enraged Beijing.
In Paris on Friday, around 20 activists calling for Liu's release tried to confront Hu as he visited the Arc de Triomphe. Police dispersed them and press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said six demonstrators were arrested.
"The arrests reflect the French government's determination to suppress any reference to human rights in China in order not to offend President Hu," the group said in a statement.
In Nice, a shopkeeper who asked not to be named told AFP she was arrested for displaying a Tibetan flag as Hu was arriving. Police said they ordered two other such flags to be taken down from a balcony in the town.
Rights activists said five or six people were arrested on the sidelines of Hu's Nice visit and soon released. Police would not confirm the figure.
"These arrests are an abuse of power. Hanging a Tibetan flag is part of freedom of expression," said a local spokesman for human rights group Amnesty International, Jacques-Noel Bouttefeux-Leclercq.
"I would like to know what Hu Jintao understood of Nicolas Sarkozy's comments on human rights and what the Chinese president said about it," he told AFP.
Before leaving, Hu visited a factory that makes components for electric cars for the French firm Schneider Electric, accompanied by French ministers and business leaders, a company spokesman who asked not to be named told AFP.
Amnesty activists waving pictures of Liu staged a small protest Saturday in Carros, a town near the factory, an AFP photographer saw.
The Nice talks came a day after the two leaders oversaw the signing of 20 billion dollars (14 billion euros) of aviation and energy contracts between French and Chinese companies.
© 2010 AFP