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Sarkozy visit marks new phase in relations
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in China yesterday, starting his three-day visit to the country. This is an extremely important part of a series of major diplomatic moves the new French head of state plans to take. Sarkozy's China trip will mark the beginning of a new phase in the development of the all-round strategic partnership between China and France.


Since Sarkozy took office, his foreign policy adjustments have shown the characteristic of succession mixed with innovation. The country's independent and self-determined foreign policy is made to protect France's national interests. The country's foreign policy, based on a multi-polar world view and ethnic diversity, has not changed.


The long-term strategic goal of Sarkozy's new foreign policy is to elevate the country's economic and trade interests so as to make the country stronger amid globalization. Needless to say, France will continue to carry out its foreign policy with the European Union as its strategic prop, lock on to the direction of advancing European integration, push forward the multi-polarization of the world, attach importance to mutual respect and dialogue between different civilizations and play a proactive and unique role in maintaining world peace.


The China-France partnership is based on expansive political consensus, common economic interests, culture of mutual understanding and growing mutual confidence.


The two countries maintain identical or similar standings on a range of critical international issues. In May 1997, China and France signed a "comprehensive partnership" document. In 2004, the two nations signed another document sealing a "comprehensive strategic partnership" between them during President Hu Jintao's visit to France, elevating bilateral relations to a new high.


China and France are both dedicated to advancing the multi-polarization of the world politics. They have pledged to strengthen the multilateral system, protect collective security and help solve global issues, oppose power politics in international relations, advocate the settlement of international disputes through dialogue and cooperation and oppose the use of and threats to use force against another sovereign nation.


Both sides attach importance to the multilateral trade system and work together on building up a fair, just and open international trade order. They are concerned about the economic and social consequences of globalization and push for a mutually-beneficial globalization based on fair trade. And both countries are for the protection of cultural diversity against the backdrop of globalization.


China and France will sign an agreement to popularize the use of French, since French, English and Chinese are all official languages of the 2008 Olympic Games to be held in Beijing.


President Sarkozy's China visit is aimed at facilitating greater development of the two countries within the framework of "comprehensive strategic partnership agreement" by seizing the opportunity for cooperation and development as well as facing any challenge head on. Better economic and trade cooperation with China will lend more energy to the French economy.


Today, France is China's second largest technological cooperation partner, third largest source of investment and fourth largest trading partner in the EU. France ranks the 10th in the world and third in Europe in terms of total investment in China. French conglomerates such as Alston, the EDF Group, Total, The Suez Group, Airbus and many small and medium-sized enterprises have seen their business operations in China grow considerably.


According to the latest French Investment in China Whitepaper, a total of 850 French companies have invested in China, including 35 with annual earnings topping 5 billion euros. Alston and some other international conglomerates' China operations are now earning more profits than the average from their global setup. The third wave of French investment in China will be led by small and medium-sized enterprises.


Sino-Franco bilateral trade has been surging in recent years, with their trade value in 2005 and 2006 reaching $20.65 billion and $25.19 billion respectively and is expected to top $30 billion this year, while the $40 billion mark is not far ahead. The two countries' cooperation in nuclear energy development has become the main stay in the deepening partnership.


Over the past 30 years or so, the two countries have seen their cooperation in nuclear energy develop deeper, which has contributed a great deal to the protection of energy resources security, energy resources self-determination and efforts to handle global warming, which reminds us the market potential of Sino-Franco cooperation in environmental protection remains largely untapped.


Earlier this year, French nuclear power generating equipment giant Areva won a contract to build two nuclear power plants for China worth of 6 billion euros. The official inking of this contract will be a highlight of President Sarkozy's current visit to China.


Like their counterparts throughout the world, French conglomerates investing in China are not free of risks and challenges. The great majority of French businesses find their China operations contributing less than 5 percent of their total business volume nowadays. It is mainly caused by structural problems in industries and trade rather than intellectual property rights protection and restrictions on technology transfer.


France is among the first to appreciate the prospect of China's overseas investment capability. It is now the third largest receiver of foreign investment in the world, with direct foreign investment totaling $88.4 billion in 2006. Though direct investment by Chinese enterprises in France is only a fraction of the total the country receives each year, the two countries' cooperation in this area will only expand in the future.


France is taking measures to facilitate Chinese enterprises' participation in bilateral trade. Next year, France will lower income tax from 60 percent to 50 percent as well as capital gains tax, implement the policy of allowing spending in scientific research and development to substitute tax payment and simplify visa procedures for Chinese entrepreneurs who invest in France.


To Sarkozy, the new French president, fortifying and developing Sino-Franco ties is a logical step for France to take to protect its international status and suits the development of the two nations' common interests. And carrying on the China policy his predecessor Jacques Chirac developed is the right decision Sarkozy has made for his presidency as the overwhelming trend demands.


As French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner pointed out during his recent visit to China his country's China policy would only improve in the future. France supports the one-China policy and opposes the Taiwan authorities' attempt to pursue UN membership through a "referendum".


Sarkozy visited China three times in 1991, 1995 and 2004, so it is safe to say he has a personal reason to be friendly to China. When he emerged victorious in the presidential election earlier this year, President Hu sent him a congratulatory message as soon as the final result of ballot counting was known. This shows just how important the bilateral relationship is to the two nations.


Sarkozy spelled out his future China policy in systematic detail during his presidential campaign, believing France-China ties cultivated by the late President Charles de Gaulle and his Chinese counterpart back in the 1950s are special, occupy an important spot on the multi-polar international stage and constitutes a key balancing power in the world. He dismissed some of his rivals' pledge to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics during the presidential election campaign and made public his desire to attend the Olympic Games opening ceremony in Beijing in August next year.


The Sino-Franco partnership is also an important part of China-EU relations and instrumental in Asia-Europe dialogue. The development of China-France comprehensive strategic partnership provides more opportunities and space for cooperation between China and the EU.


For years France has been pushing within the EU for the lifting of the arms embargo against China. It will assume the rotating EU presidency in the second half of next year and is expected to proactively seek to implement the new cooperation framework in the form of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, eliminate the negative factors hindering China-EU relations and further advance the development of China-EU strategic partnership, as it has been doing for years.


On human rights, he has made considerable efforts to push forward China-EU cooperation in this regard since taking office and has sought to enhance human right talks with China mainly through the European Commission's "basic rights apparatus", the European Parliament and the European Council. China and France officially signed the treaty on the extradition of criminals, which will serve as a statutory foundation for joint efforts by the two countries to fight transnational crime. The Chinese side is also working hard in preparation for ratifying the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.


The upcoming talks between Chinese and French leaders will surely arrive at more consensuses over various global issues. They will also exchange views on such issues as the renminbi exchange rate and cooperation in African development. Global climate change and sustainable development in particular will feature prominently in discussions between the two sides.


We believe President Sarkozy's China visit will advance China-France talks to greater depth and usher in a fresh phase for the development of international relations suited for the new century.


The author is a researcher with China Institute of International Studies


(China Daily November 26, 2007)

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