China-France set to tie up deals on Xi visit
Honour guards prepare to leave after the arrival of China's President Xi Jinping at the Lyon Saint-Exupery Airport, on March 25, 2014 - by Jeff Pachoud
France lags behind some European neighbours, most markedly Germany, in trade and investment links with China but has worked hard to catch up and accords in the aviation, nuclear, space, agriculture and urban development sectors are expected to be unveiled.
Details have been closely guarded by both sides. The only deal certain to be signed is one that will see Chinese firm Dongfeng take a stake in troubled French auto giant Peugeot.
An agreement on the joint construction of civilian helicopters between Airbus Helicopters and China is also expected.
When French President Francois Hollande visited China in April last year, Xi welcomed him with a pledge to buy 60 Airbus planes and there could be more to come.
"My visit to France... will allow me to work with President Francois Hollande... to sum up 50 years of Sino-French relations and to plan the future together," Xi said Tuesday at a dinner in the centre-west city of Lyon, his first stop.
"Investments are welcome in France and we are mobilised to facilitate them," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Xi.
Hollande will welcome Xi and his glamorous wife Peng Liyuan to the presidential palace, where the two countries will sign the Dongfeng-Peugeot deal.
The couple's three-day visit will culminate in a concert at the Versailles palace, as the two countries celebrate 50 years of full diplomatic ties.
Ahead of his trip, Xi penned a column in French daily Le Figaro in which he paid tribute to French leader Charles de Gaulle's 1964 decision to break ranks with the United States and recognise communist China, paving the way for Beijing's global acceptance.
- Areva wants nuclear deals -
Luc Oursel, head of French nuclear giant Areva, last week said he was hoping that several agreements would be signed, as negotiations continue on the construction in China of a nuclear waste reprocessing plant.
France's finance ministry is also organising an economic forum on Thursday that will gather together about 400 businesses.
"Our economic and trade relationship with China is marked by a strong imbalance," the French foreign ministry said, pointing to a trade deficit of 25.8 billion euros ($35.7 billion) last year between the two countries.
At the end of 2012, France's total investments in China came to 16.7 billion euros, four times more than China's in France.
The trip is also due to touch on political matters as the crisis in Ukraine dominates the international agenda.
- Tibet protest planned -
The trip also carries a symbolic note, with Xi scheduled to make a major speech in Paris highlighting historical bonds such as the experiences of Communist Party luminaries Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, who both studied in France.
Xi's wife Peng, a famous singer and China's first prominent First Lady, is also a Francophile.
And while she no longer has a French counterpart after Hollande split from his partner Valerie Trierweiler, Peng has her own itinerary planned that will see her named special UNESCO envoy for the promotion of women's education.
The question of human rights in China will impact on the visit amid an ongoing, government-backed crackdown on dissent, with Tibetan exiles planning a big rally in Paris on Thursday.
Since 2009 about 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in China in protests against the authorities, denouncing what they say is an erosion of their religious freedoms and culture and discrimination by the country's Han majority.
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