President Hu Jintao shakes hands with French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo while French President Nicolas Sarkozy looks on during an agreement signing ceremony in Paris on Thursday, local time. [Thibault Camus/Reuters]
Relations between China, France rebound to a new high, experts say
PARIS/BEIJING - China and France inked their biggest ever deals on the first day of President Hu Jintao's visit, right after the nations' leaders pledged to cooperate closely as Paris prepares to take over the G20 presidency.
The once fluctuating relationship between the two world powers seemed to be tracking back to the closeness of the "de Gaulle era" as the state visit began, Chinese experts said.
Hu, together with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, officiated at the signing ceremony for deals totaling 16 billion euros ($22.8 billion) on Thursday at the Elysee Palace.
The contracts included the purchase of 102 aircraft from Airbus, 1.18 billion euros of telecom equipment and the sale of 20,000 tons of uranium from France's Areva to China's Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp.
Meanwhile, local authorities announced a new 500-million-euro French-Chinese business district in Chateauroux, central France, that will create 4,000 jobs - most of them in France - when it opens in 2012.
The French government described the contracts as "by far the most important ever, either during visits by Chinese leaders to Europe or European leaders to China".
In 2007, when Sarkozy visited Beijing, French companies netted contracts that exceeded $20 billion.
The deals signed on Thursday came after the two leaders sat down for bilateral talks earlier that day. The talks led to a joint bilateral declaration in which the two nations pledged support for one another in various areas.
The countries agreed in the statement to coordinate macroeconomic policies, fight volatility in commodity markets and look at reforming institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.
"Thirteen years after China and France established a comprehensive partnership, the two countries decided to inject fresh vigor into bilateral ties and build a new type of comprehensive strategic partnership that is mutually beneficial, mature, stable and with global views," the statement said.
In a toast before the state dinner on Thursday night, Hu said: "China supports France in its efforts to host a successful G20 summit next year and aims to keep close communication and coordination with France to prepare its success."
In his toast, Sarkozy said he wanted to "tightly associate" with China.
"China should not be seen as a threat, but an opportunity," he said ahead of Hu's arrival.
Paris has announced its G20 agenda of diversifying global currency reserves away from the US dollar and stabilizing commodity markets.
Du Ping, a commentator for Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, said the achievements during the visit have "symbolic significance" in ties between the two world powers.
"Support from the world's No 2 economy is very important to Sarkozy who is ambitious about reshaping the global market," he said.
And for Beijing, which is under pressure from Washington to revalue its currency, support from France is also of great importance, he said.
France has arranged for an extravagant program of ceremonies during the visit, with red carpets rolled out at Sarkozy's presidential palace and Chinese national flags lining the major streets of Paris.
France marked the start of Hu's trip in style by offering him a series of Bordeaux vintages on Thursday night.
They included wines from 1942 (Hu's birth year), 1949 (the founding of the People's Republic of China), 1964 (the year the two nations established diplomatic relations), 2002 (the year Hu became president) and 2008 (the Beijing Olympics).
Chen Zhimin, a scholar in international affairs with Shanghai-based Fudan University, said the high-level reception indicated that the attitude of the French toward China is "returning to the de Gaulle era".
Against the sweeping Cold War mentality toward China from major Western powers, former French leader Charles de Gaulle ensured in 1964 France was the first nation from the West to forge ambassador-level diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China.
However, those ties were strained in 2008 following a series of diplomatic spats.
Relations recovered a year later and continued to warm after Hu and Sarkozy patched them up during a visit by the French leader to Beijing in April.
"The path of Sino-French ties shows that countries with different ideologies, political institutions and cultural backgrounds can coexist and cooperate for mutual benefit as long as they respect each other," Hu said.
He also met French Prime Minister Francois Fillon and former French president Jacques Chirac.
AFP contributed to this story.