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Europe

France solidifies ties with China as President Hu's visit proves lucrative

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has welcomed Chinese President Hu Jintao - and his business - ahead of France's upcoming G20 presidency. Shortly after starting his visit to Paris, Hu signed deals worth $20 billion.

Hu Jintao and Nicolas Sarkozy

Hu signed deals worth at least $20 billion in Paris

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao solidified their countries' economic ties Thursday during the beginning of Hu's three-day visit to France.

Hu signed on Thursday a series of deals with French airplane and energy firms worth at least $20 billion (14 billion euros).

"China should not be seen as a threat but as an opportunity," Sarkozy said prior to Hu's arrival. Sarkozy seeks to strengthen his country's relations with China prior to France taking over the Group of 20 presidency on November 12, following the G20 summit in South Korea.

The summit is expected to be a major topic of discussion between the two leaders, as the key issue in South Korea will be the exchange rate of the Chinese currency. The US and other industrial nations accuse China of keeping the yuan's rate artificially low in order to give Chinese exports an advantage on the world market.

Billions in new contracts

Hu and Sarkozy at a state dinner at the Elysee Palace

The two presidents toasted each other at a state dinner

Hu's visit immediately became lucrative for France: Sarkozy's office announced that Chinese airlines had agreed to purchase 102 jets from Airbus, in a deal worth $14 billion alone. An agreement was also signed between France's energy producer Areva and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp. Franco-American telecom giant Alcatel-Lucent announced deals with three Chinese operators - China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom - worth 1.17 billion euros.

Local authorities also meanwhile announced a new 500-million-euro Franco-Chinese business district in the central-French town of Chateauroux, which is expected to create 4,000 jobs in 2012.

Rolling out the red carpet

Hu received a warm welcome from Sarkozy and French first lady Carla Bruni Thursday afternoon at Paris' Orly airport. After reviewing French troops, the two leaders paraded down the Champs-Elysees, where French and Chinese flags hung overhead and spectators were held behind barricades.

Liu Xiaobo

Sarkozy was criticized for not speaking out for imprisoned Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo

They conducted their first round of talks at the Elysee Palace before a full state dinner, where the two were set to toast each other in their only scheduled, official public statements during the visit.

The two presidents' choice not to make public statements during the visit has enraged activists, who are dismayed that they will not be able to press Hu on his country's abysmal human rights record - and that Sarkozy has chosen to keep mum on the matter.

Sarkozy defended his decision to keep human rights off the menu in favor of economic talks, saying, "When you host someone, you need to receive them well, and it's not through criticizing people that you move things forward. It's by trying to understand them."

Sarkozy drew criticism in particular for not speaking out in favor of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, whose Nobel Peace Prize enraged Beijing when it was announced last month.

Relations warming

A hand flipping through a stack of 100-yuan notes

The Chinese currency is set to be the major topic of discussion at the next G20 summit

Economic ties and relations between France and China have warmed considerably since 2009 after reaching a low point in 2008 when Sarkozy met with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

On Friday, Hu is due to meet business leaders for more contracts, visit a war memorial at Paris's Arc de Triomphe and meet with French Prime Minister Francois Fillon before flying south to the Riviera city of Nice. After three days in France, Hu is set to visit Portugal.

Author: David Levitz (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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