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French President Francois Hollande spoke at a gymnasium during the traditional Chinese New Year festivities in Paris in January 2012. Johanna Leguerre / AFP
Hollande, new Beijing leadership to put ties on right track
What are the first three things and names that come to mind when you ask any random Chinese person about France?
You may receive a long list of answers including the Eiffel Tower, French cuisine, Provence, Bordeaux wine, Louis Vuitton, Galeries Lafayette, Jean Reno, Zinedine Zidane and so on.
Put them together and one gets a very rough idea on what ordinary Chinese people think about France.
But in terms of diplomatic relations, the country is also synonymous with Charles De Gaulle, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and Jacques Chirac, who are known as "old friends of the Chinese people".
Although the term may sound like typical diplomatic jargon, it shows recognition for the contributions of these leaders to Sino-French friendship.
China's leaders are looking to continue this legacy of friendship with current French President Francois Hollande, whose arrival today marks the first official visit by the head of state of a major Western nation since Beijing's new leadership assumed office in March.
It is a landmark visit that also marks an end to unstable relations over the past few years when Nicolas Sarkozy was in office.
China's leaders are hopeful that Hollande's visit will bring ties into a new era and lead to more practical cooperation at a time when both countries need each other on bilateral issues and when they can jointly play a big role in major international issues.
As China moves up the value chain in pursuit of a better growth model, France's strength in nuclear technology, aviation and aerospace sectors can play a vital role.
The country is also a major investment destination in Europe now that an increasing number of Chinese firms have been seeking overseas expansion in recent years.
And for France, stronger investment ties and more-balanced trade with China may help Hollande diffuse mounting domestic pressure he now faces.
Stagnation of the French economy, and the stubbornly high unemployment rate have driven his domestic approval rating to a record low of 27 percent.
In addition to bilateral cooperation, analysts say better coordination between China and France, both of which are permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations, will have far-reaching implications on several key international issues, such as Iran and Korean Peninsula nuclear issues.
"France is seeking a confirmation of China's readiness to deal multilaterally with global issues ranging from nuclear non-proliferation to climate change," said Francois Godement, China specialist and professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies.
He said it is important for China and France to renew dialog on multilateral issues within the European Union, including investment treaties as well as macro-economic and monetary policies.
As the leader of a core member of the eurozone and Europe's second-largest economy, Hollande is also expected to assure Beijing of the stability of the eurozone and the political will of European leaders to overcome the sovereign debt crisis.
Jean Besson, president of the France-China Friendship Group at the French Senate, said that China's support is essential for the eurozone's recovery because the region's economy remains fragile.
Jean-Marie Le Guen, member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly, suggested China and France use the upcoming meeting to intensify cooperation in Africa and to forge a strategic partnership for promoting development in the region.
Le Guen said that the roles of China and France in Africa should be complementary, and stronger cooperation will benefit the region's economic and social development.
"We know that China has increasing investment in Africa, but we think it is a good thing because Africa needs to improve its economy and social development," he said.
In addition to discussing these significant bilateral and international issues, Hollande is also scheduled to visit the Forbidden City in Beijing and give a speech at a university in Shanghai.
Hopefully Hollande will take a practical attitude on handling ties with China and his first visit will set a good tone for ones to come.
Li Xiang in Paris contributed to the story
(China Daily 04/25/2013 page15)