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France rolls out red carpet for China's Xi Jinping
China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan arrive in France on Tuesday for a four-day visit, to include a state dinner in Paris and a concert at the Palace of Versailles, as the two countries celebrate 50 years of full diplomatic ties.
In an article in Tuesday’s Le Figaro newspaper, Xi praised the decision in 1964 of then French president Charles de Gaulle to break ranks with the United States and recognise the People's Republic of China, paving the way for the communist state's global acceptance.
"It established for the international community an example of peaceful co-existence and win-win cooperation between two countries with different social systems," he wrote.
Xi said France was the first Western country to engage in civil nuclear energy cooperation with China, sign scientific and technical accords with Beijing and launch direct flights to the country.
His trip, he added, would be about celebrating the long-standing friendship but also "about construction of the future and raising our relationship onto a new level".
The Chinese president’s first stop is in Lyon, which has always had relatively strong links with China from the time when it was a "silk city" in the 16th century.
Although France lags behind some of its European neighbours, such as Germany, in trade and investment links with China, it is keen to make up for lost time and hopes the trip will yield several business deals.
There are expectations of accords in the aviation, nuclear, space, agriculture and urban development sectors. Chinese firm Dongfeng will also take a stake in French carmakers Peugeot.
An agreement on the joint construction of civilian helicopters between Airbus Helicopters and China is also expected, and a big plane order is reportedly on the cards.
Luc Oursel, head of French nuclear giant Areva, last week said he was hoping for the signature of several agreements, as negotiations continue on the construction in China of a nuclear waste reprocessing plant.
France's finance ministry is organising a gathering of some 400 businesses at an economic forum on Thursday.
"Our economic and trade relationship with China is marked by a strong imbalance," the French foreign ministry said, pointing to a trade deficit of 25.8 billion euros last year between the two countries.
At the end of 2012, France's total investments in China came to 16.7 billion euros, four times more than Chinese investments in France.
The trip is also due to touch on political matters, as the crisis in Ukraine continues to dominate the international agenda.
China earlier this month abstained in a vote over a Western-backed UN Security Council resolution condemning the Moscow-backed secession referendum in Crimea, refraining from the option of vetoing it along with Russia.
The trip also carries a symbolic note with Xi scheduled to make a major speech in Paris highlighting historical bonds such as the experiences of Communist Party luminaries Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, who both studied in France.
Meanwhile the visit will be the focus of protests by French human rights activists, who hope to draw attention to the treatment of dissentors in China.
Tibetan exiles also plan rallies in Lyon and Paris to protest over Chinese rule.