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French President Visits China in Bid to Build Ties and Trade - 2004-10-09


French President Jacques Chirac is visiting China as part of France's bid to expand trade ties with one of the world's fastest growing economies. The French president has reaffirmed his intent to call for a lifting of the European Union arms embargo imposed on China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. President Jacques Chirac received a warm welcome from Chinese President Hu Jintao, who met with the French leader shortly after he arrived in the Chinese capital Saturday.

Topping the French president's agenda on this five-day trip is a plan to boost trade ties with China. Mr. Chirac, who is traveling with a number of French business leaders, urged French businesses to take advantage of China's rapid growth, saying it presents plenty of business opportunities that could mean jobs for France.

Agreements signed thus far include contracts for China's purchase of passenger jets, railway materials, and a $350 million hydroelectric deal.

Analysts say China also is keen to expand its relations with France, and Europe in general. Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a researcher at the French Center for Scientific Research in Paris, says French leaders, like the Chinese, are seeking to counter U.S. influence in Asia.

"It's Chirac's ambition to promote relations with Asia and in particular with China, as a key partner of France and Europe in this part of the world in order to make the world more 'multi-polar,' as Chirac would say," observed Jean-Pierre Cabestan.

On his first day in the Chinese capital, Mr. Chirac told his Chinese hosts what they wanted to hear: He reiterated France's support for China's claims on Taiwan; praised Beijing for its efforts to broker a solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis; and said France and China share similar views in opposing the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Speaking to reporters after his meeting with President Hu, the French leader said he intends to go ahead with his efforts to push for the European Union to lift its 15-year-old weapons embargo on China, imposed after the Chinese army's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989.

Mr. Chirac said the current embargo cannot be justified. He said it was imposed according to the circumstances of the time and has become no more than a hostile measure against China.

The French leader said he hopes the European Union will lift the embargo "in the coming months."

Some analysts believe Mr. Chirac is using his efforts to lift the ban as a tactic to gain favor with the Chinese, but few believe he will be able to sway the European Union to do away with the weapons ban anytime soon. Jean-Pierre Cabestan of the French Center for Scientific Research says the chances for lifting the embargo have decreased considerably since this year's EU expansion.

"So it's a riskless policy to tell the Chinese that France is in favor of lifting the embargo, knowing very well that the EU is not going follow on this," he said.

Mr. Chirac's efforts to get the weapons ban lifted have prompted protests from international human rights advocates. The New York-based Human Rights in China group on Friday said the French leader's moves "conveniently ignore" China's obligations under international human rights laws and dishonor those who continue to call for accountability over the incident in which soldiers used tanks and guns against unarmed demonstrators, killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people.

In remarks Saturday, President Hu Jintao said his government has no intention to reassess the incident.

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