Xi Jinping, French PM meeting delivers 18 big deals

Beijing and Paris signed 18 deals on Thursday, including deals for 60 Airbus planes and a nuclear project, as President Xi Jinping hosted his first head of state from a major Western country, French President Francois Hollande.

The trip by Hollande, described by many in the French media as "a sales tour" since he brought along a planeload of businessmen, also saw the two countries agree to establish an economic and financial high-level dialogue to further promote economic cooperation.

Analysts said the visit will help the countries renew dialogue under new leaderships and enhance China-EU ties.

A significant portion of the 60 planes will be manufactured at an Airbus factory in Tianjin, an industry source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The countries signed 17 other agreements ­on tourism, agricultural products, nuclear power and urbanization.

French nuclear giant Areva and Chinese energy group China National Nuclear Corporation signed letters of intent on the construction of a nuclear-waste treatment plant.

"I look forward to the future of our global strategic partnership and to working with you to make our relationship closer, healthier and more vibrant," Xi said at a news conference with Hollande.

Hollande said he brought a group of businessmen to provide the most suitable and most needed products for the Chinese market.

He promised that Chinese investments will not encounter obstacles as long as they bring jobs and development.

"I welcome them all, and the sooner the better," the French president said.

Observers said the visit comes amid the most difficult time for Hollande since being elected in May last year.

His domestic approval rating has been driven to a record low 26 per cent by stubbornly high unemployment amid the protracted financial crisis.

France registered a $34 billion trade deficit with China last year, and the country accounts for less than 2 per cent of China's foreign trade.

"There is an imbalance in our foreign trade, and we hope to correct that," Hollande said. "Not by reducing our investment and exports, but by increasing them further, and we will be discussing this throughout our meetings and on this trip."

More Chinese investment in France and further opening up in transportation, energy and urban services, where French firms excel, are part of the solution to correct the deficit, said Francois Godement, China specialist and professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies.

But the imbalance, partly from France's economic structure, can hardly be changed overnight, said Ding Yifan, deputy director of the World Development Research Institute at the Development Research Center of the State Council.

"For example, nuclear energy and aircraft are two pillars of the French economy, while exports of these products are limited," he said.

Martine Aubry, special representative of the French Foreign Affair Ministry to China, said France should develop its market share in China.

"China has major challenges in which France has huge potential, such as the ageing population and chronic diseases, urbanization and sustainable development, and healthy diets," Aubry said.

Jean-Marie Le Guen, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly, said tightening ties with China will facilitate the access of EU companies to the Chinese market.

"Growth in China is a chance not only for Asian countries, but for the EU as well. Our mutual responsibility is to ensure that everybody can benefit from it," he said.

Xi said at the news conference that the two countries would "actively promote a multipolar world and the democratization of international relations".

"China and France both want a multipolar world. We want there to be a balance. We refuse a world of powers, and of superpowers," Hollande said. "When China and France agree on a position, we can drive the world."

The two-day visit will also take Hollande to Shanghai.

Paris aims to have a candid dialogue with Beijing without letting its domestic politics influence its external strategy, Christian Lechervy, special foreign affairs adviser to the French president, told media prior to the visit.

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