French companies win $22.8b deals in China

France won euro16 billion ($22.8 billion) in deals Thursday to sell uranium and Airbus planes to China during the pomp-filled visit of the Asian country’s president.

As Hu Jintao and President Nicolas Sarkozy looked on, French and Chinese business leaders signed the deals, which included an agreement by several Chinese companies to buy 102 aircraft from European plane-making consortium Airbus.

In a statement, the French presidency said the agreement_ which will see airlines including Air China, China Eastern and China Southern buy Airbus’ A320, A330 and A350 models — is worth around $14 billion.

Other top deals included an agreement for France’s Areva nuclear engineering firm to sell China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp. 20,000 tons of uranium over a decade. The contract is worth around $3.5 billion dollars, Areva said in a statement.

The three-day state visit by Hu, which kicked off Thursday with a red carpet welcome and Chinese flags fluttering in the streets of Paris, marks a dramatic turnaround from the tense ties of two years ago, when Sarkozy threatened to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics out of anger about China’s treatment of Tibet.

That stance brought fears that France could lose big business in China, and Sarkozy’s tone has changed. To the distress of human rights groups, Sarkozy’s advisers say he wants to avoid confrontation and go for convergence during Hu’s visit.

Sarkozy and French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy greeted Hu at the airport on his arrival Thursday, an honor the French president rarely grants visitors. Their motorcade rolled down the famous Champs-Elysees avenue, cleared of traffic, as French and Chinese flags fluttered overhead.

At the presidential palace, guards in silver helmets and on horseback stood guard outside as Hu arrived for talks.

Sarkozy believes China’s support will be essential as France prepares to take the leadership of the Group of 20 rich and developing nations starting Nov. 12. Sarkozy has set himself ambitious goals, saying France will push for mechanisms to limit excessive currency volatility and swings in commodity prices.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders released doves from cages Thursday to press for the liberation of Chinese dissidents from jail. The media advocacy group was among the organizers of massive protests against China’s human rights record when the Olympic flame passed through Paris in 2008 ahead of the Games.

At another demonstration to support Tibet, the Uighur minority and the banned Falun Gong spiritual group, one demonstrator held a sign reading “Welcome, dictator.”

Many observers have complained that Sarkozy said nothing last month when jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize. Sarkozy’s office says the leaders will discuss “all subjects without taboos” but has not given any details on what he plans to say about human rights.

The two men are to hold talks Thursday at the presidential Elysee Palace, and then Sarkozy and his wife, model-turned-singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, will host China’s first couple for a state dinner.

The following day the two leaders head to the French Riviera city of Nice for more talks and dinner at a cozy Provencal restaurant. The Nice trip was a suggestion from Hu, who has traveled in France before but has never been to that part of the country, Sarkozy’s office said. Hu departs Saturday for Portugal.

Sarkozy has often flip-flopped on China. Despite his boycott threat, he did back down and attend the Olympic opening ceremony.

Sarkozy again angered China by meeting the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in Poland in late 2008. After that the two countries’ high-level contacts were frozen, and France deliberately frozen out during major Chinese purchasing and investment missions to Europe.was

The two countries reconciled with a fence-mending agreement last year. Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party has even signed a cooperation agreement with China’s ruling Communist Party — a move that raised eyebrows in France.
Source: AP

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