China's president the toast of France

SYLVIE CORBET
Last updated 09:12 27/03/2014
PRESIDENT: Xi Jinping.
Reuters
PRESIDENT: Xi Jinping.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping was the toast of France as he embarked on a state visit - and what better time just days after China ended an anti-dumping, anti-subsidy investigation of French wine.

Deal-making and commemorations of a half-century of French diplomatic ties with Communist China were the order of business during Xi's three-day visit, part of his European tour.

France wants its relations with China to flourish, not least because of a whopping €25.8 billion (NZ$41.4b) trade deficit with what is now the world's number two economy. That shortfall represents roughly 40 per cent of France's total foreign trade deficit.

French officials said the signing of about 50 commercial accords were being lined up. From nuclear energy to aerospace to agribusiness, and even including a possible sausage deal, President Francois Hollande says they will total about €18b.

In Paris during the afternoon, Hollande met Xi at a state ceremony and troop review at the Invalides monument, the final resting place of Napoleon.

"My visit to France comes at a particular moment, and will allow for work with ... Hollande and other French leaders to take stock of 50 years of Sino-French relations, and plan the future together," Xi said following his arrival.

Wednesday will be seen by the French as a step in the right direction, with Chinese automaker Dongfeng signing to a deal to invest €800 million in France's largest carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen.

Meanwhile, Airbus Helicopters and China's Avicopter signed a joint agreement for the production of 1,000 new-generation helicopters, while China ordered about 70 European Airbus planes.

French officials also want France to increase its market share in China from about 1.5 per cent today - noting with no small amount of envy that Germany's is about 5 per cent.

But many French workers, already worrying about double-digit unemployment rates in France, are fretting about the impact on wages from doing more business with China.

China, already a world leader in manufacturing, is looking to scale up production of value-added goods and services and tap into French savoir faire in high-tech industries.

Under President Charles de Gaulle in 1964, France broke with many Western allies and recognised Communist China's government.

Since then, relations have been generally smooth despite differences at times on issues like human rights, Tibet and the civil war in Syria.

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China launched a probe of French wine last year amid a dispute between the European Union and China over very cheap Chinese solar panels.

The solar panels side of the spat was resolved months ago, but China's wine probe continued - until last week's announcement that it had ended.

At Tuesday's reception at Lyon City Hall, Xi and Chinese envoys nibbled on sausage and chocolates, and sipped Beaujolais.

"The wine market in China is very big," said Xi - a point surely not missed by the French.

- AP

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