China, France sign fresh deals during Hu visit

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France and China were to sign a fresh batch of trade deals on Friday during a state visit by President Hu Jintao that has already seen Paris win export contracts worth 20 billion dollars.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has brushed aside worries about China's human rights recond to throw on a warm and lavish welcome for Hu, wooing investment and Chinese support for his agenda as the incoming president of the G20.

France and China signed 20 billion dollars in industrial contracts on Thursday at the start of Hu's three-day visit.

A new round of 15 contracts is to be signed on Friday on "commercial and economic cooperation", business sources said, without elaborating on the businesses or sectors concerned.

The deals are to be signed at business association Medef on Paris' chic Left Bank in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, at a ceremony to be attended by Chinese Minister of Commerce Cheng Deming and French Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Idrac.

After striking a deal to supply 102 airliners to Chinese firms worth 14 billion dollars, the boss of Airbus parent company EADS, Louis Gallois, said China's human rights "problem" could not be resolved by businesses.

"I don't think that we should resolve the problems that you mention, notably human rights, through business," Gallois said when asked by BFM radio about the lack of any public comment by Sarkozy on human rights in China.

"I don't see what commercial instrument one can use to resolve this kind of problem. I think that China is developing, evolving, as it opens up," he said.

Amidst the deals, Hu has thrown China's weight behind Sarkozy's goal of using France's upcoming presidency of the G20 group of the world's largest economies to reform the global financial system.

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 banquet was held on Thursday.

"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."

France will after next week's summit in South Korea take on the year-long rotating G20 presidency, during which Sarkozy wants to push major international reforms, and the two leaders have shown a united front on the issue.

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

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 important 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.

No joint news conference has been scheduled, 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.

Hu was to re-light the flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Paris's Arc de Triomphe before meeting French Prime Minister Francois Fillon and heading to the Riviera city of Nice for a working dinner with Sarkozy.

Hu is to head to Portugal on Saturday.

© 2010 AFP

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