France rolled out the red carpet for China's President Xi Jinping on Tuesday as he arrived for a trip that is expected to include the signing of several important trade deals.
Xi opened his visit in Lyon on Tuesday evening by tasting local cheese, sausage and wine before enjoying dinner at the City Hall.
Manufacturers of French sausages hope they will also benefit from the visit, should Xi give into their demand to lift restrictions that prevent them from exporting to China.
Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan are being given VIP treatment on their four-day visit to France, with a state dinner in Paris and a concert at the Palace of Versailles, as the two countries celebrate 50 years of full diplomatic ties.
The Chinese president has paid tribute to former French leader Charles de Gaulle's 1964 decision to break ranks with the United States and recognise the People's Republic, paving the way for the communist state's global acceptance.
"It established for the international community an example of peaceful co-existence and win-win cooperation between two countries with different social systems," Xi wrote in an article published on Tuesday in the French daily Le Figaro.
Xi wrote that France was the first Western country to engage in civil nuclear energy cooperation with China, sign scientific and technical accords with Beijing, and launch direct flights to the country.
His trip, he added, would be about celebrating the long-standing friendship and also "about construction of the future and lifting our relationship onto a new level".
Although France is far behind some of its European neighbours, most markedly Germany, in trade and investment links with China, it has been working hard to catch up. Xi's visit is expected to see a raft of deals announced.
Accords in the aviation, nuclear, space, agriculture and urban development sectors are expected to be unveiled on Wednesday.
Details of most of them have been closely guarded by both sides with the only deal certain to be signed one, which will see Chinese firm Dongfeng take a stake in stricken French auto giant Peugeot.
An agreement on the joint construction of civilian helicopters between Airbus Helicopters and China is also expected, and a big plane order is reportedly on the cards.
When French President François Hollande visited China in April last year, Xi welcomed him with a pledge to buy 60 Airbus planes and there could be more to come.
Luc Oursel, head of French nuclear giant Areva, said last week he was hoping for the signing of several agreements, as negotiations continue on the construction in China of a nuclear waste reprocessing plant.
The trip is also due to touch on political matters, as the crisis in Ukraine continues to dominate the international agenda.
China earlier this month lodged a rare abstention on a Western-backed UN Security Council resolution condemning a Moscow-backed secession referendum in Crimea, rather than vetoing it along with Russia.
The question of human rights in China will also never be far from the trip, amid an ongoing, government-backed crackdown on dissent and as minorities continue to suffer discrimination, according to activists.
Tibetan exiles plan rallies in Lyon and Paris to protest what they say is oppressive Chinese rule over Tibetan areas.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-03-25