BEIJING (AFP) – The leaders of France and China oversaw the signing of multi-billion-dollar business deals at talks that touched on nuclear crises in North Korea and Iran and an EU arms embargo on Beijing.
French President Jacques Chirac, on the second, politically most important day of a four-day visit to China, met with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao for over an hour at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Chirac, on his fourth visit since taking power in 1995 — he leaves office next year — is regarded as an old friend by the Chinese leadership, and his presence triggered another round of lucrative economic contracts.
“We have met to strengthen our economic and commercial cooperation, notably in the areas of energy, aviation, space and transportation,” Hu said after the talks, which he described as “frank, friendly and fruitful.”
The two leaders issued a joint statement calling for the European Union’s arms embargo, in place since the Tiananmen massacre of 1989, to be lifted.
“The two sides believe that the moment has come for the EU to make the most of the expanding partnership between the EU and China, most notably by lifting the arms embargo,” the statement said.
It also called on the bloc to recognize “as soon as possible China’s market economy status.”
Headlining the deals was China’s multi-billion-dollar order of 150 Airbus A320 aircraft, along with an option to buy 20 of the European aerospace giant’s new wide-body A350 planes.
While no figures were immediately released about the value of the contract, Airbus officials said the average list price for one A320 was between 50.5 million and 78 million dollars.
China placed another order in December last year, when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited France, for 150 Airbus planes with a list price of nearly 10 billion dollars.
As part of Thursday’s deal, Airbus gave a final green light to the building of an A320 assembly plant in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin — the first of its kind outside Europe.
The new plant, first officially floated during Wen’s visit to France, will complete its first aircraft in 2009 and will subsequently manufacture four a month, the aircraft maker said.
Thirteen economic and other cooperation agreements were signed between the two nations on areas as diverse as nuclear power, agriculture and preventing infectious diseases, as well as aviation and rail.
Aside from bilateral economic cooperation, Chirac and Hu devoted part of their meeting to discussing international stand-offs over the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs.
The joint statement expressed “grave concern” over North Korea’s October 9 first ever nuclear bomb test, which it said was “contrary to the goal of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
The leaders also urged Tehran to abide by a UN Security Council resolution that had set an August 31 deadline for Iran to abandon sensitive nuclear fuel work or face sanctions.
However there was no mention in the statement about a new draft resolution at the UN that seeks to impose sanctions against Iran for failing to halt its nuclear fuel work.
The meeting between Hu and Chirac was watched closely in relation to North Korea and Iran as China and France are permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Human rights, a highly sensitive issue for China’s leaders, was also discussed after Chirac made rare comments a day earlier highlighting Beijing’s poor record in the area.
“It is a due necessity of nations to advance and protect all human rights and fundamental liberties,” the joint statement from Hu and Chirac said.
Chirac had on Wednesday singled out China’s attitude on human rights as a particular area of concern as the country’s leaders look ahead to hosting the 2008 Olympics.
The French leader was due later Thursday to speak at Peking University and meet with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
He will travel to Wuhan in central China on Friday to oversee the start of construction of a second PSA Peugeot-Citroen factory. The final leg of Chirac’s visit on Saturday will be to the archaeologically rich city of Xian.