PARIS, Jan 29 (AFP) – Chinese President Hu Jintao wrapped up a four-day state visit to France on Thursday described as “very positive” despite controversy over Paris supporting Beijing’s opposition to a referendum in Taiwan and sidestepping the issue of human rights.
Hu visited the headquarters of European aircraft maker Airbus Thursday morning before boarding a flight to Egypt.
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin hailed the visit as “very positive” on the economic front pointing to several “important” contracts signed, notably the purchase by Southern China Airlines of 21 Airbus planes in a deal estimated to be worth at least EUR 1 billion (USD 1.3 billion).
“This opens up good prospects. There is a lot of Chinese interest in the French and European aviation industry,” Raffarin said.
French newspapers, however, questioned Thursday the true economic impact of the visit while criticizing President Jacques Chirac for bending over backwards to accommodate the Chinese delegation during their stay.
“French companies don’t win contracts by flattering the regime in Beijing but rather by being better at what they do than their German counterparts,” the daily Le Figaro said in an editorial. “Jacques Chirac went too far in trying to please Hu Jintao.”
The daily Le Monde said in its Thursday edition that though Chirac’s attitude during Hu’s visit was understandable in that he was trying to defend France’s business interests it did not justify turning a blind eye to human rights violations in China.
“Diplomacy has never been described as a lesson in virtue but rather a lesson in realism,” the paper said. “And this realism should prevent France from throwing a prudish veil on human rights violations in China.”
Chirac raised eyebrows during Hu’s visit when he publicly backed Beijing against Taiwan by denouncing a planned referendum on the island that China fears would be a first step to full independence.
He also committed France to trying to lift an EU arms embargo to China imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Taiwan reacted furiously Thursday to Chirac’s comments on the referendum accusing France of meddling in its internal affairs and cancelling official visits to Paris by two cabinet ministers.
“It’s incomprehensible to me that the government leader of a country having over 200 years of history practising the referendum system has interfered in the internal affairs of another country,” Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian said in a statement.
Human rights protesters who held several demonstrations in Paris before and during Hu’s visit did their best to attract attention to Beijing’s repression of annexed Tibet, and its imprisonment of dissidents, but high security prevented them getting close to the Chinese officials.
About the only note of official protest at Paris rolling out the red carpet for Hu came on Tuesday when only 250 of the 577 deputies attended his speech before the lower chamber of the French parliament – a privilige accorded to few foreign leaders.
Several lawmakers from the opposition Socialist Party and the Green Party instead took part in nearby demonstrations against China’s poor record on human rights.
Hu’s trip to France marked his first state visit here and was aimed at celebrating 40 years of diplomatic relations.
The Chinese head of state will visit Gabon and Algeria after his stop in Egypt before returning to Beijing on February 4.
Subject: France news