China, France sign big contracts, unite for G20

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France and China signed major industrial deals worth 20 billion dollars on Thursday at the start of a lavish state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao, cementing previously strained ties.

Hu also threw China's weight behind Sarkozy's goal of using France's upcoming presidency of the G20 group of economic powers to reform the global financial system, the French leader's other big priority for the visit.

The contract signings kicked off a three-day visit by Hu that France hopes will result in a massive boost to its high-tech manufacturing exports.

China's deputy foreign minister Fu Ying revealed the scale of the deals to reporters after talks between the presidents and a signing ceremony at the Elysee Palace, where a state dinner was laid on.

"The visit is going very well. We have had some great successes," Fu told reporters. "The Chinese delegation is totally satisfied and has high hopes for future discussions."

The two leaders meanwhile showed a united front ahead of the Sarkozy's G20 presidency, through which he wants to push major international reforms.

"China supports France in its efforts to ensure the success of the G20 summit next year," Hu said in his toast to Sarkozy at their state dinner.

Sarkozy said in his own toast: "I know I can count on China's backing to make progress on three big projects that are essential to keep the world running properly."

He said these three targets were reform of the world monetary system, of financial governance and of raw materials markets.

In a statement, the leaders said they wished to "significantly improve the mechanisms of world economic governance."

France will take on the year-long rotating G20 presidency after next week's summit in South Korea.

Separately announcing details of the contracts, Sarkozy's office said European planemaker Airbus struck a deal to supply 102 airliners to Chinese firms at a cost of 14 billion dollars (around 10 billion euros).

Meanwhile, French nuclear giant Areva signed a contract to supply 3.5 billion dollars' worth of uranium to Chinese power firm CNGPC, Areva chief Anne Lauvergeon told reporters.

She added that Areva had also signed a contract to build a uranium treatment plant in China, but did not cite the amount.

French energy giant Total meanwhile said it was planning to invest two to three billion euros in a Chinese petrochemical plant.

Chinese businesses were due to sign more contracts on Friday at the headquarters of French business association Medef, French presidential officials said.

France and China have had tense diplomatic ties in recent years, notably over French meetings with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, but they maintain key economic ties and relations have warmed since 2009.

Activists and the Socialist opposition complain France has kept human rights off the menu for the visit, a tense encounter given the high economic and diplomatic stakes.

They have 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.

Campaigners criticised Sarkozy for not speaking out in favour of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, whose Nobel Peace Prize enraged Beijing when it was announced last month.

Fu dismissed the issue, telling reporters: "It's not a subject for discussion between China and France. Liu broke the law and was convicted."

Around 200 activists, many of them waving the banners of Tibet and Xinxiang -- Chinese provinces with separatist leanings -- gathered by the Eiffel Tower to demand that France raise the rights issue during the visit.

On Friday, Hu is due to visit a war memorial at Paris's Arc de Triomphe and meet with French Prime Minister Francois Fillon before flying south to the Riviera city of Nice.

There he and Sarkozy are due to hold further bilateral talks and Hu will visit a nearby Schneider Electric factory on Saturday before heading on to Portugal.

© 2010 AFP

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