Aviation and nuclear deals signal improved relations

France and China applauded efforts to buck up relations strained by the Tibetan issue on Monday, as a French delegation led by Prime Minister François Fillon signed a raft of business deals during a trip to Beijing.


AFP - France and China on Monday hailed their reinvigorated ties, putting a spat over Tibet behind them and sealing a series of economic deals during a visit by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Fillon's high-profile visit came on the heels of the marathon climate change talks in Copenhagen, at which China came in for sharp criticism -- notably from the Europeans -- for rejecting any move to quantify mid-century emissions cuts.

The French premier, accompanied by a high-level delegation of key ministers and top business leaders, witnessed the signing of the deals with counterpart Wen Jiabao after the two held talks at the Great Hall of the People.

Wen said both sides had agreed to push forward their "comprehensive strategic partnership", adding: "Even though it is our first meeting in person, I feel like we are friends."

Fillon replied: "Our two countries' partnership is unmatched. Our partnership is long and enduring."

French aerospace and defence industries group Safran and US conglomerate General Electric have won a multi-billion-dollar contract to equip China's future C919 passenger jet with engines, Safran's chief executive Jean-Paul Herteman said.

The deal, signed on Monday, would be worth five billion dollars to each partner in the Franco-US joint venture, and could possibly be worth 15 billion dollars over 30 years, Herteman told reporters ahead of the signing.

The C919 -- built by state-linked Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) and due to be ready for service in about 2016, according to state media -- is seen as a future competitor to the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737.

Earlier, Electricite de France (EDF) and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Company (CGNPC) formalised their joint venture for the construction of two reactors at a power plant in Taishan in southern Guangdong province.

EDF holds a 30 percent stake in the new company, Guangdong Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture Company Ltd., and CGNPC holds the remaining 70 percent.

French nuclear group Areva is to provide the third-generation European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) for the plant, under a multi-billion-dollar deal signed in November 2007.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua said the other deals signed covered cooperation in areas such as culture and water resources.

Fillon tiptoed around the Copenhagen issue, describing the deal reached as a "key step" in the fight on global warming while admitting that he had hoped for more.

"France, like all of the European Union, would have wanted the Copenhagen Accord to go a bit further. But there is an agreement," the French premier said.

Wen later defended China's role in Copenhagen, calling it "important and constructive."

In total, 12 agreements were signed and Fillon will leave China on Tuesday with 6.3 billion euros (nine billion dollars) worth of contracts signed, a source close to the talks said.

Relations between the two nations deteriorated last year when the Paris leg of China's Olympic torch relay was disrupted by pro-Tibet protesters.

They hit a low point in December 2008 when French President Nicolas Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, whom Beijing accuses of seeking independence for the Himalayan region -- a claim he denies.

Four months later, though, the two countries were officially reconciled on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in London, and Sarkozy subsequently invited Chinese President Hu Jintao to visit France.

Fillon was to wrap up his visit to China on Tuesday. He was scheduled to meet Hu and parliamentary speaker Wu Bangguo.

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