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Hu Signs Major Deals with France

A market hungry for investment. Millions of people to transport. Power needs to supply. Having scored wins on ties with Europe, Chinese President Hu Jintao attended to business on Wednesday, luring heavyweight French firms with enticing visions of China's surging economy.

Wrapping up his three-day visit, Hu Jintao was to preside over the signing of nine business and research deals Wednesday, covering electronics, nuclear power, car manufacturing and other industries, French Prime Minster Jean-Pierre Raffarin's office said.

The Chinese president first hosted a "Who's Who" of major French business leaders at his Paris hotel Wednesday morning. He outlined China's economic needs, the opening of its markets as a relatively new member of the World Trade Organization, and China's desire for foreign investment and technology, participants said.

Doing business in China "has become a reality for many of us instead of just the long-term ambition that it was still a few years ago," said Henri Proglio, chairman of French utilities group Veolia. Last month, it signed a contract worth US$10.7 billion over 50 years to manage water supply and treatment in the Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Both China and France hope to boost their economic ties with the visit of the Chinese President, who leaves Thursday after a brief visit to European aircraft maker Airbus.

The 14 companies that sent their top brass to attend a meeting with Hu Wednesday ranged from oil giant Total to engineering and telecommunications companies Alstom and Alcatel, as well as defense and aerospace companies Thales and EADS and hotel operator Accor.

Deals to be signed Wednesday included a US$758 million investment accord between car maker PSA Peugeot Citroen and its Chinese partner Dongfeng to double production at their plant in Wuhan, central China, a spokesman for the French company said.

French glass maker Saint-Gobain, meanwhile, was to sign a deal with China's Luoyang Float Glass Group, and electronics companies Thomson of France and China's TCL International were to finalize a previously announced joint venture.

There were also to be research deals, including an accord with French jet engine maker Snecma, a nuclear fusion project with France's Atomic Energy Commission and plans for joint work on disease epidemics with the Paris-based Pasteur Institute.

"French businesses are generally of a high technological level, while Chinese enterprises are manufacturers," said French Commerce Minister Francois Loos. "They complement each other naturally and that's what we have to exploit."

(China Daily January 29, 2004)

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