China's Hu visits French Riviera on lucrative state visit
China's President Hu Jintao arrived in the French Riviera city of Nice Friday on day two of a state visit that has seen the countries sign trade deals worth more than 20 billion dollars.
Hu went to the luxury seafront Negresco hotel and was to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy at 5:00 pm (1600 GMT) for a second round of talks on a trip marked by lucrative contracts and preparations for France's G20 presidency.
Sarkozy has ignored complaints from human rights activists about China's record, and thrown on a warm and lavish welcome for Hu, wooing investment and Chinese support for his G20 agenda.
France and China signed 20 billion dollars in industrial contracts on Thursday at the start of Hu's three-day visit, with police trying to keep rights protestors away from the Chinese leader during his stay in Paris.
Nevertheless around 20 activists approached Hu as he arrived at the Arc de Triomphe to re-light the flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, calling for jailed Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo to be freed.
Police intervened rapidly to disperse the protestors who opened up white umbrellas with "Free Liu Xiaobo" printed on them and shouted the same slogan.
The award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu enraged Beijing when it was announced last month, and Chinese officials have said his fate is not up for discussion during the French visit.
Human rights group Amnesty International said it was also planning a protest on Saturday morning at an industrial complex near Nice where Hu is scheduled to visit a factory before ending his visit to France.
A new round of 15 contracts was signed Friday in arenas ranging from power to wine, including a 1.1 billion euro deal between telecommunications group Alcatel-Lucent and China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom.
They were signed in Paris at business association Medef, at a ceremony attended by Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming and French Trade Minister Christine Lagarde.
In remarks calculated to reassure China about its export-driven economy, Lagarde branded protectionism "the most hideous monster" and called for "a sustained economic relationship founded on friendship and demand."
But she added that France would like to sell more to Chinese consumers.
"We're not necessarily very proud when we see that our trade deficit with China is the largest at 22 billion euros," she said.
Alongside the trade contracts, Hu has thrown China's weight behind Sarkozy's goal of using France's upcoming presidency of the Group of 20 of the world's largest economies to reform the global financial system.
After next week's summit in South Korea, France will take on the year-long rotating G20 presidency, during which Sarkozy wants to push major international reforms, and China has given cautious backing to the French agenda.
French nuclear giant Areva has also signed a contract to supply 3.5 billion dollars' worth of uranium to Chinese power firm CNGPC.
France and China have had tense diplomatic ties 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.
Activists and the Socialist opposition complain France has kept human rights off the menu for the visit.
No joint news conference has been scheduled, 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.
Hu heads to Portugal on Saturday.
© 2010 AFP