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Chinese President visits Airbus factory
( 2004-01-31 14:58) (chinadaily.com.cn/agencies)

Chinese President Hu Jintao toured the assembly lines of aircraft maker Airbus on Thursday, climbing into a life-sized mock-up of a superjumbo jet at the close of a state visit France hopes will win it more business in China.

Chinese President Hu Jintao (second from right) listens to Noel Forgeard, chairman of European aircraft maker Airbus, (left) as they tour the Airbus assembly plant in Toulouse, southwestern France, Thursday Jan. 29, 2004. [Reuters]

Workers waving French and Chinese flags welcomed the Chinese leader as he arrived at the assembly plant near the Toulouse airport in Blagnac, where Airbus is headquartered.

Accompanied by French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Hu visited the assembly lines of the A-330 and A-340 jetliners, an important European export.

"We have a sincere wish to cooperate with China," said Airbus President Noel Forgeard, helping to show his guest around.

Hu announced Tuesday that China Southern Airlines has agreed to buy 21 new passenger jets from Airbus. The European company confirmed that a provisional deal had been reached for the sale of 21 A-320 planes. It was not immediately clear when the deal might be finalized.

The Chinese president, waving to workers during his tour, stopped in front of an A-340 to be delivered in June to China Eastern Airlines, part of a US$1.7 billion contract to sell 30 planes to five Chinese airlines.

France is looking to improve its commercial reach in China. Hu, who left Thursday for Egypt, met with France's leading industrialists on Wednesday and presided over the signing of an array of business and research deals.

President Jacques Chirac made a clear effort to strengthen bilateral ties, in part in hopes of a payoff on the economic side.

China said Thursday it appreciated Chirac's support in its effort to have a 15-year-old European Union arms embargo lifted. The EU imposed the embargo in 1989.

There was no indication as to whether Hu might be inquiring about Airbus' 555-seat, A-380 superjumbo or just having fun sitting in a passenger seat of the life-sized model.

The prime minister said Hu remarked that he was "very impressed by the plane, its technical capabilities, its comfort, its technological modernity and all the systems it offers its clientele."

The four-day visit kicked off a international tour that, along with France and Egypt, included stops in Gabon and Algeria.

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