China, France sign major business deals on Xi visit
French President Francois Hollande (R) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping, at the end of a joint press conference, after a meeting at the Elysee presidentiel palace on March 26, 2014, in Paris - by Alain Jocard
Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan have been given VIP treatment on a nostalgia-tinted trip to France marking the 50th year of full diplomatic ties between the two countries -- a visit due to culminate with a concert at the Versailles palace on Thursday.
On Wednesday afternoon, after kicking off his trip in the eastern city of Lyon, Xi travelled to Paris where he met with Hollande and signed a raft of deals.
"Eighteen billion euros of contracts -- that is jobs, growth and, most of all, significant prospects for the coming years," Hollande said during a joint press declaration with Xi.
By far the biggest deal was a Chinese order for 70 Airbus planes worth more than $10 billion.
The order covers the purchase of 43 mid-range A320 planes and 27 long-haul A330s, the European aviation giant said.
China had already announced its intention to purchase the planes but subsequently froze the order due to a row over EU plans to impose a carbon emissions levy on airlines.
This forced Airbus to take the 70 planes off its order book, so Wednesday's contract is considered a new order.
Airbus Helicopters and China's Avicopter also announced a deal to jointly produce 1,000 civilian helicopters over 20 years.
And the two countries signed agreements in a number of other areas including the nuclear, financial and automotive sectors.
- France's 'duty' -
France lags behind some European neighbours, especially Germany, in trade and investment links with fast-growing China.
Last year, France had a trade deficit with China worth 25.8 billion euros, and on Wednesday, Hollande told Xi that Paris had a "duty... to re-balance trade between our two countries".
His comments came as the number of jobless in France surged by 0.9 percent in February to a new record of 3.34 million, in what is likely to increase the deep unpopularity of Hollande's Socialist government.
Xi and Peng began the French leg of their trip on Tuesday in the eastern city of Lyon, a former silk centre that forged enduring links with China from the 16th century.
The power couple were treated to a lavish dinner at city hall, and sampled regional delicacies such as wine, saucisson and Beaufort cheese.
On Wednesday, the couple visited bioMerieux, a French diagnostics firm run by a prominent Lyon business dynasty that has old trade links with China.
"In the near future, the Chinese health sector will greatly develop and this will be in the interest of the Chinese people and the whole world," Xi said.
He then visited the city's Franco-Chinese Institute before leaving for Paris to meet the French president.
Xi is scheduled to make a major speech in Paris Thursday 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, China's first prominent First Lady and a famous singer, 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 activities planned that will see her named special UNESCO envoy for the promotion of women's education.
The question of human rights in China was ever-present on the vi sit 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.
The issue of human rights was not mentioned in either of the leaders' declarations on Wednesday, where journalists were not allowed to ask questions.
The Chinese leader is on his first-ever European tour and after visiting The Netherlands and France will head to Germany and Belgium.
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