France, China fete 50 years since recognition
France and China begin year-long celebrations this week to mark 50 years since Paris became the first Western power to recognise the Chinese Communist government.
Both sides will highlight former French president and World War II resistance hero Charles De Gaulle's 'visionary' decision during the Cold War to launch full diplomatic relations, breaking ranks with the United States and other Western powers.
The January 27, 1964 announcement came against the backdrop of the nuclear missile crisis, the rupture between China and the Soviet Union and the Vietnam war.
"It's in this context that De Gaulle took these initiatives, rising above the division between the two blocs," said historian and China specialist Francois Godemont from the European Council on Foreign Relations.
"This rapprochement gave France a certain role in Asia in relation to the United States," Godemont said.
Despite this, experts agree that economic ties between the Asian giant and the eurozone's second economy remain well below potential.
The French recognition came at an opportune time for Beijing, which had split with the Soviet Union on ideological grounds and because of conflicting national interests, thereby fracturing the international communist movement.
"The decision not only shook up the bipolar order at the heart of the Cold War but also was a breakthrough in the building of a multipolar world," said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
"It was a visionary decision with respect to a great power in the making, whose importance in world affairs today bears testimony to this," Fabius said.
By way of comparison, full diplomatic relations between China and Britain were only established in 1972, and in 1979 with the United States.
To mark half a century since the landmark diplomatic move, France has pledged to fast track visas for Chinese visitors and process them within two days.
The celebrations include exhibitions in China showcasing the works of leading French artists such as Impressionist painter Claude Monet and sculptor Auguste Rodin.
An exhibition on De Gaulle will also be held and a replica of a bullet-riddled Citroen car in which he survived an assassination attempt by opponents of Algerian independence will be sent to China.
The inauguration event in Paris will take place at the Grand Palais museum in Paris will include a solo performance by famed Chinese pianist Lang Lang.
France top European destination for Chinese
With the emergence of a booming middle-class in China and fewer travel restrictions, France has become the prime European destination for Chinese tourists with a record 1.4 million visitors last year.
France is keen however to close a huge trade deficit totalling EUR 26 billion (USD 35 billion) in 2012.
And political relations have also had their ups and downs with rifts over the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989, France's sale of frigates to Taiwan and pro-Tibetan demonstrations in Paris in 2008 during the torch relay for the Beijing Olympics.
Relations again soured after former president Nicolas Sarkozy met Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama in Poland.
In response, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao omitted France in his tour of Europe, his assistant foreign minister arguing that "the one who tied the knot should be the one who unties it."
France has since been seen as seeking to appease China by muting its response to alleged human rights violations in China.
"For Beijing, France still counts but it has been overtaken by Germany," said Godemont, adding that Paris' stance was characterised by "a growing silence on troublesome issues".
But a French diplomatic source defended the policy, saying "appearing to give lessons can have a counter-productive effect."
Catherine Rama / AFP / Expatica