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Europe

France and China Cozy Up

Chinese President Hu Jintao is in France this week on a state visit. His host, French President Jacques Chirac, is making a clear effort to get on Beijing's good side.

Hu Jintao’s current visit to France is turning out to be somewhat of a love fest: Celebrating 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the Chinese leader has been granted the rare honor of addressing the national assembly. Hu will also inaugurate France's "Year of China," aimed at arousing awareness of the Communist country's emergence as an economic giant. Paris has lit up its Eiffel tower in red to mark the visit as well as the beginning of the Chinese New Year.

In China, the commencing “year of the monkey” is expected to be a prosperous one in terms of economic success and France seems to be interested in getting in on the action. France’s 2003 trade volume with China amounted to $13 billion (€10.4 billion), about a third of the Chinese-German total.

Hu Jintao in Frankreich mit Jacques Chirac

French President Jacques Chirac, foreground left, gestures as China's President Hu Jintao, right, waves upon Hu's arrival at Orly Airport, south of Paris, Monday, Jan. 26, 2004.

“This visit gives us the chance to open a new phase in our partnership,” Chirac said after picking up his guest at the airport on Monday. “Our aim is to further strengthen ties which are already good at the political and cultural level and which could be developed on the economic front.”

Besides stronger economic cooperation, both countries also hope to get support from each other against the world’s only remaining superpower, Valerie Nique, an expert on China at the institute for international and strategic studies in Paris, told German public broadcaster Saarländischer Rundfunk.

“France considers China important to assert herself against U.S. hegemony,” Nique said. “It’s similar in the reverse. China fears that Washington wants to take on a military role in Asia. That’s why China needs France in the U.N. security council against U.S. hegemony.”

Chirac supports “One China” policy

To show France’s support of China, Chirac reiterated his backing of Beijing’s “One China” policy as Taiwan is preparing to hold a referendum on arming itself against a possible attack from the mainland. Like most other countries, including the United States and Germany, France does not recognize Taiwan as an independent state. China considers the referendum an unacceptable step toward independence.

A referendum “would be a grave mistake,” Chirac said, adding that Taiwan would bear responsibility for cracks in the region’s stability should it go ahead with the plan on March 20.

France lobbies EU to end arms embargo

Chirac on Tuesday also called for an end to the EU's 14-year-old arms embargo against China, which was established after Beijing’s brutal crackdown on the 1989 student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. "It makes absolutely no sense today," Chirac said, according to the German news agency DPA.

Dominique de Villepin in Brüssel

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin

Earlier this week, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin (photo) pushed his EU colleagues to end the embargo. But at least Sweden and the Netherlands seem opposed to such a move, saying that the human rights situation in China still does not warrant an end to the arms embargo.

One Brussels diplomat quoted by Reuters news agency even said the proposal had little chance to succeed. “Nobody backed it,” he said. “Most countries said it posed problems for them.” But EU foreign relations representative Javier Solana said it was probably time to rethink the embargo. “"If you take the list of countries with whom we have embargos of arms, probably China is not in the company it should be," he said, adding that Chinese leadership had changed since Tiananmen. The EU also has implented arms embargoes against Myanmar (Burma,) Sudan and Zimbabwe.

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