Chirac to talk business, N. Korea, rights in China

24th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 24, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac kicks off a four-day visit to China on Wednesday, aiming to boost economic and business cooperation, against a backdrop of the North Korean nuclear weapons crisis.

PARIS, Oct 24, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac kicks off a four-day visit to China on Wednesday, aiming to boost economic and business cooperation, against a backdrop of the North Korean nuclear weapons crisis.

Before leaving for Beijing, Chirac said he hoped to strike strategic partnerships in areas such as nuclear energy and rail transport, and indicated China would be a top foreign policy priority for France.

"France wants to establish genuine, strategic industrial partnerships with China," he said in comments to the Xinhua news agency which were released by his office here.

"This is already largely the case in the aeronautic domain. We think this example could be extended to nuclear energy, to rail transport and to other domains where France has unparalleled experience."

During the trip — Chirac's fourth visit since he took power in 1995 and his second state visit — the French president will support several French bids for business in China, including the construction of a fast rail link in Guangdong and the delivery of four large third-generation nuclear reactors.

Chirac said he also hopes to open "new sectors" of cooperation between the two countries, such as telecommunications, financial services, agriculture and on environmental issues.

"On the other hand I am not satisfied with the weakness of our part of the market and by consequence with the unequal character of our commercial exchanges," he said.

France holds only 1.4 percent of the Chinese market, compared with Germany's four percent.

However French exports to China, which amounted to EUR 5.7 billion last year, have been booming, rising by 27.5 percent in the first semester of 2006.

Chirac indicated that China was now a top priority for France.

"The partnership with China from now on is at the heart of France's foreign strategy because everyone knows that it's China that will play a large part in the future of the world," Chirac said.

Chirac will travel with 30 big business chiefs — including from Societe Generale, Eurocopter, Airbus, Areva, Carrefour and EDF — who hope to push their proposed projects. To that end, he will attend a ceremony on Friday in Wuhan, in the central Hubei province, to lay a stone at the start of construction of a second PSA Peugeot-Citroen factory.

China last year ordered nearly 70 Airbuses, including three of the new A380s, and the recently announced delays in delivery of the new planes are likely to be brought up with the head of state.

France, which had 3,700 small- and medium-sized businesses in China at the time of Chirac's last visit in 2004, is now aiming to double the number, according to his office.

The state visit starts on Thursday in Beijing with a day mainly devoted to the political and strategic partnership between the two governments.

This partnership, initiated in 1997 and solidified in 2004, aims "to work together for peace and stability in the world", said Chirac's spokesman Jerome Bonnafont.

Nuclear proliferation is also set to dominate discussions after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test on October 9.

China, which has been Pyongyang's main ally, will be key in enforcing UN sanctions on North Korea, while France had been at the forefront of efforts to convince Iran to agree to halt its nuclear work and return to talks.

Underlining the "exemplary character" of the task, a French diplomat said that "if the international community can show itself to be effective on this question, it's an important message for the rest of the world", notably Iran and its nuclear intentions.

Chirac, some of whose aides met on Monday with the NGOs who are "the most involved" in working for human rights in China, is also expected to bring up this sensitive point with his hosts.

The French president said the partnership between China and Europe should flourish because "there are no rivalries of power between us, only common interests".

But he noted that the relationship would be affected by issues such as outsourcing as well as China's "social and political evolution", its impact on the environment and its "global ambitions".

Chirac said he was "confident in the capacity of China to assert itself as a great, responsible nation committed to international security and the promotion of more equitable global economic development ... and more respectful of the environment".

The final leg of Chirac's state visit on Saturday will be in Xian, one of the world's biggest archeological sites and home to a hundreds-strong army of terra-cotta warriors dating back 2,200 years.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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