Hu Jintao

November 4, 2010 by staff 

Hu Jintao, (AP) — President Nicolas Sarkozy will woo his visiting Chinese counterpart Thursday with military fanfare, a parade by soldiers on horseback and a glamorous dinner at the Elysee Palace. In return, France expects massive contracts for airplanes and energy.

The three-day state visit by Hu Jintao marks a dramatic turnaround from the tense ties of two years ago, when Sarkozy threatened to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics out of anger about China’s treatment of Tibet.

That stance brought fears that France could lose big business in China, and Sarkozy’s tone has changed. To the distress of human rights groups, Sarkozy’s advisers say he wants to avoid confrontation and go for convergence during Hu’s visit. Sarkozy even plans to greet Hu at the airport on his arrival Thursday, an honor the French president rarely grants visitors.

The French president believes China’s support will be essential as France prepares to take the leadership of the Group of 20 rich and developing nations starting Nov. 12. Sarkozy has set himself ambitious goals, saying France will push for mechanisms to limit excessive currency volatility and swings in commodity prices.

Business interests are also central to the visit, with deals expected for French oil company Total SA and nuclear engineering giant Areva, Sarkozy’s office said.

Even before the visit started, China Southern Airlines said in a statement released through the Hong Kong stock exchange that it would buy 36 jets from European consortium Airbus at a total list price of $3.78 billion.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders released doves from cages Thursday to press for the liberation of Chinese dissidents from jail. The media advocacy group was among the organizers of massive protests against China’s human rights record when the Olympic flame passed through Paris in 2008 ahead of the Games.

Many observers have complained that Sarkozy said nothing last month when jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize. Sarkozy’s office says the leaders will discuss “all subjects without taboos” but has not given any details on what he plans to say about human rights.

Sarkozy is to greet Hu at Orly airport outside Paris on Thursday, an event followed by military honors and a horseback escort for Hu through Paris, where he is staying at the luxurious George V hotel.

The two men will hold talks at the presidential Elysee Palace, and then Sarkozy and his wife, model-turned-singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, will host China’s first couple for a state dinner.

The following day the two leaders head to the French Riviera city of Nice for more talks and dinner at a cozy Provencal restaurant. The Nice trip was a suggestion from Hu, who has traveled in France before but has never been to that part of the country, Sarkozy’s office said. Hu departs Saturday for Portugal.

Sarkozy has often flip-flopped on China. Despite his boycott threat, he did back down and attend the Olympic opening ceremony.

Sarkozy again angered China by meeting the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in Poland in late 2008. After that the two countries’ high-level contacts were frozen, and France deliberately frozen out during major Chinese purchasing and investment missions to Europe.was

The two countries reconciled with a fence-mending agreement last year. Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party has even signed a cooperation agreement with China’s ruling Communist Party — a move that raised eyebrows in France.

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