Sarkozy seeks to bury the hatchet with China
French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in China on Wednesday for a visit aimed at reinvigorating ties tested two years ago over Tibet and at winning support for new sanctions against Iran.
The French president, making his second state visit to China, will meet the country's top leaders including his opposite number Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing before heading to Shanghai for the start of the World Expo.
Sarkozy -- accompanied by his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and a delegation of top ministers -- began his visit in the ancient capital of Xian, home to the famous terracotta warriors.
France's first couple were seen being ushered into the museum under tight security after the site was cleared of all other tourists.
Sarkozy was later to head to Beijing, kicking off the official part of his trip by meeting Hu and addressing the media later in the day.
"China has become an absolutely indispensable actor on the world stage," Sarkozy told China's state Xinhua news agency in an interview published Wednesday.
"Today, there is not one major issue that we can handle without you."
Paris hopes to win China's support for fresh UN sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear programme, but first has to fully win Beijing round, two years after a heated row over Tibet.
In March 2008, just four months after Sarkozy's first state visit to China, ties soured when the French leader expressed shock at the security crackdown in the Chinese-ruled region after protests there led to deadly violence.
A month later, the Chinese leadership was incensed when pro-Tibetan demonstrators booed and jostled the Olympic flame as it was carried through Paris on its way to the Beijing Games.
Tensions peaked when Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, in December 2008, before starting to ease when the French leader met Hu at the G20 summit on the financial crisis last year.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, during a visit to China in December, said any "misunderstandings" between Paris and Beijing were a thing of the past.
On Thursday, Sarkozy and his wife will visit a section of the Great Wall not open to the public. The French president will then meet China's top legislator Wu Bangguo, the second highest-ranking figure in the Communist hierarchy.
Sarkozy will meet Wen on Friday before heading to Shanghai, where he will officially open the French pavilion at the World Expo and take part in the opening ceremony for the six-month exhibition.
Cooperation agreements on ecology, higher education and the creation of new businesses are to be signed during Sarkozy's visit, according to French officials.
"New chapters are about to be written in China's relationships with France and with the European Union," the China Daily said Wednesday in an editorial.
"French President Nicolas Sarkozy's three-day visit shows how each side has let bygones be bygones. It could be seen as a formal announcement to the world that the China-France relationship is now back to normal."
© 2010 AFP