Chinese President Hu Jintao got the red carpet treatment when he arrived in Paris Thursday at the start of a three-day visit. His French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy met him at the airport and their motorcade drove down the Champs Elysees.
At an elaborate state dinner, Sarkozy praised China and said Beijing's contribution to a range of key political, economic and environment issues was indispensible.
Sarkozy said France and China would go forward in a climate of friendship and understanding. He said the two sides were determined to contribute to the solutions of today's big problems.
France joins a growing European effort to woo Chinese investment and trade. On Thursday, Paris and Beijing signed a slew of business deals worth more than $20 billion. More broadly, Hu's visit comes after a European tour by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao who presided over a European Union-China summit last month.
China has inked business deals with Greece and Italy. Ireland and Hungary are also competing for Chinese investments. And this year, the EU overtook the United States as China's largest trading partner. For France, China's support is particular essential since Paris takes over the presidency next week of the G20 group of top economic powers.
But human rights activists fear Europe may tone down its criticism of China's human rights record as it pushes its financial interests. Mr. Sarkozy did not mention China's human rights during his state dinner speech.
Rights group Amnesty International called for protests in the Riviera town of Nice, where President Hu was visiting Friday. Amnesty member Jacques-Noel Bouttefeux-Leclerq told French radio the group wanted to draw particular attention to the plight of imprisoned Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. A senior Chinese official has warned European governments they would have to bear the consequences if they supported the Nobel winner.