China's Hu starts lucrative state visit to France
China's President Hu Jintao landed in Paris Friday for a three-day state visit set to see the signing of billions of dollars in deals for nuclear, aviation and energy technology.
Hu's plane landed as scheduled at 1:30 pm (1230 GMT) at Paris's Orly airport and he descended the exit steps and was embraced by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and greeted by First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
A military band played as Hu crossed the red carpet laid out on the tarmac and guards were lined up to give him military honours. The pair inspected the honour guard and stood for the French national anthem.
Sarkozy and Hu hold their first round of talks at the Elysee Palace later in the day and will sign major business contracts before a full state dinner.
"China should not be seen as a threat, but an opportunity," Sarkozy said, shortly before heading to the airport.
"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.
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 the precise figure before the leaders met.
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 million dollars).
Meanwhile, 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, local authorities announced Thursday.
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 is keeping human rights off the menu for the visit, a delicate encounter given the economic stakes and Sarkozy's preparation for his presidency of the G20 group of 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, 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.
"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 insisted.
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 presidency of the Group of 20 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 leader the Dalai Lama, but they maintain important economic ties and relations have warmed since 2009.
© 2010 AFP