China, France join forces for world monetary reform

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China and France joined forces Friday to push for reform of the global monetary system when France takes the helm of the G20 economic grouping next week.

They reached a "true convergence of views" on France's reform plans in talks between President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in the Mediterranean city of Nice, a senior French presidential advisor said.

Sarkozy later said he also broached the sensitive topic of human rights, following complaints by activists that he was avoiding the subject so as not to offend Hu given the high economic and diplomatic stakes of the visit.

Speaking to reporters as he arrived at a chic restaurant near the Nice seafront for a dinner with Hu, Sarkozy said the two discussed "all subjects... without taboos."

Activists and political opponents had criticised Sarkozy for not speaking up in favour of the jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize last month in a move that enraged Beijing.

Having overseen billions of dollars' (euros') worth of Franco-Chinese trade deals, Sarkozy was seeking China's backing for his plans for financial reform when he takes over the G20 presidency at a summit in South Korea next week.

"There is a true convergence of views between China and France on the aims to be achieved and the route and means necessary to achieve this reform," the presidential adviser told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official added the two leaders also agreed to hold a gathering of monetary experts in China at an unspecified date, "probably in the spring" in early 2011.

Hu said on Thursday that he supported Sarkozy in his G20 plans, but few concrete details have been announced. Sarkozy has previously called for measures to end volatility of exchange rates and commodities prices.

France and China have had tense 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.

In Paris on Friday morning around 20 activists calling for Liu's liberation approached Hu as he visited the Arc de Triomphe. Police dispersed them and press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said six demonstrators were arrested.

"The arrests reflect the French government's determination to suppress any reference to human rights in China in order not to offend President Hu," it alleged in a statement.

In Nice a local shopkeeper who asked not to be named told AFP she was arrested for displaying a Tibetan flag as Hu was arriving and later released. Police said they also ordered two other such flags to be taken down from a balcony in the town.

Chinese officials had said that Liu's 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.

The Nice talks come a day after the two leaders oversaw the signing of 20 billion dollars' (14 billion euros') worth of aviation and energy contracts between French and Chinese companies.

A new round of 15 contracts was signed Friday in areas 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.

French nuclear giant Areva signed a contract to supply 3.5 billion dollars' worth of uranium to Chinese power firm CNGPC.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde called for "a sustained economic relationship founded on friendship and demand."

Sarkozy and Hu scheduled no joint news conference, 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

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