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Chirac's China Visit Seen as Disappointing  - 2004-10-12


French President Jacques Chirac has wrapped up a five-day visit to mainland China, leaving with pledges for billions of dollars in trade deals. Mr. Chirac stressed trade and common concerns during his trip to woo China's leaders.

French president Jacques Chirac capped his visit with a stop in China's business hub, Shanghai, where he toured a joint-venture computer factory and looked at a light rail commuter line that uses French technology.

Mr. Chirac leaves with agreements in hand for Chinese companies to purchase six smaller Airbus jets, trains, and water treatment equipment. The total value of the deals is an estimated $5 billion.

The French leader sought to win favor with his hosts by touting his intent to push the European Union to lift a weapons embargo imposed after the Chinese army's 1989 violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square. In meetings with President Hu Jintao and other leaders in Beijing, he generally avoided discussion of China's human rights record and pledged France's support for China's claims over Taiwan.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue on Tuesday welcomed Mr. Chirac's position and brushed off criticism from some human rights advocates that the arms embargo should continue.

"We believe linking the human rights issue with the arms embargo is totally unreasonable and we are firmly against it," he said. "Lifting the embargo serves both parties interests. We call the EU side to proceed according to the general interests of Sino-EU relations and to come out with a correct decision at an early date."

Despite Mr. Chirac's bid to charm his Chinese hosts, some analysts say the trip was disappointing for him after he failed to seal much-anticipated contracts for the sale of new Airbus A380 jumbo jets and expensive high-speed rail technology.

Observers say these failures are a political loss for Mr. Chirac.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a researcher at the French Centre for Scientific Research in Paris, says Mr. Chirac has been under pressure at home to increase France's share in the rising trade between the European Union and China.

"EU since its enlargement has become one of its three key trade partners with the U.S. and Japan and may become China's first trade partner in 2004," said Mr. Cabestan. "But at the same time, the share of France within the trade is very disappointing."

Among the top European investors in China, France, with its $6.1 billion in investments, lags a distant third behind Britain and Germany. Britain is the top European investor in China with $11.4 billion in joint ventures.