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French President Begins China Tour

French President Jacques Chirac arrived on Friday evening in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, to start a five-day state visit to China as the guest of President Hu Jintao.

Vice President Zeng Qinghong met Chirac and his wife Bernadette at the airport. Also on the trip are French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and External Commerce Minister Francois Loos.

On Saturday morning in Chengdu, the French president delivered a speech on the economic partnership between China and France, the main theme of a visit on which he is accompanied by around 50 industrialists.

Chirac is flying to Beijing on Saturday afternoon, where he is scheduled to meet with President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the 10th National Peoples Congress.

Chirac will attend Sundays French Culture Year in China opening ceremonies, including an aerobatics show by Patrouille de France, the demonstration team of the French Air Force.

Before departing on his Asia trip, Chirac has expressed his belief that Chinas development provides opportunities for economic growth and job creation in France.

France must seize this chance. It has the capacity to be the partner of reference for China in many areas in which the strong features of the French economy can match the needs of China, said presidential spokesman Jerome Bonnafont.

China and France have a similar outlook on many political issues, but France lags behind other European Union countries in terms of investment in China.

France is Chinas fourth-largest trading partner in the EU, well behind Germany, although bilateral trade grew strongly to US$13.4 billion last year and is expected to jump another 40 percent this year.

Chirac and the industrialists traveling with him will launch a concerted offensiveto win a larger slice of Chinas market, said Bonnafont.

Deals in energy resources, transport and aviation are expected to be signed during Chiracs stay.

He started his Asian tour on Tuesday in Vietnam, where he attended the fifth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Hanoi.

At a press briefing after the summit, Chirac said that France is in favor of lifting the EU weapons embargo on China.

The situation in China is now quite different from what it was when the embargo was put in place 15 years ago, he noted. China has complied with rules regarding weapons whether the embargo is imposed or not, and the ban is pointless.

Chirac indicated that most EU countries agree that the weapons embargo should be lifted, and that he hopes the EU members will resolve the problem with a satisfactory agreement.

(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily October 9, 2004)

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