Sarkozy to focus on 'comprehensive, long term' ties

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Beijing and Paris attach great importance to French President Nicolas Sarkozy's three-day state visit to China starting April 28, and talks will focus on developing "long term" and "comprehensive" bilateral ties, the top Chinese diplomat was quoted as saying by China News Service in Paris.

Of the 21 state and government leaders who are scheduled to attend the opening ceremony of the Shanghai Expo on April 30, Sarkozy will be the only one to fly to Beijing and meet with several top Chinese officials, China's Ambassador to France Kong Quan said. "This arrangement shows that both countries think highly and expect much from the visit," the top envoy said.

This will be Sarkozy's fourth visit to the nation since becoming French president in May 2007, the news agency quoted Kong as saying.

President Hu Jintao, top legislator Wu Bangguo and Premier Wen Jiabao will meet Sarkozy, who will be accompanied by a high-level delegation that includes the Minister of Ecology Jean-Louis Borloo, Minister of Economic Affairs Christine Lagarde, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand, and the French government spokesman Luc Chatel.

Along with his wife Carla Bruni, the French president will kick off the visit from Xi'an, the capital of China's Northwest Shaanxi province. "I think they will talk about improving bilateral ties by focusing on comprehensive and long term (affairs)," Kong said.

Sino-French relations hit a trough in 2008 when the Olympic torch relay was disrupted in Paris and later worsened when the French president met the Dalai Lama in December 2008.

Kong, however, said relations have begun to thaw since last year, and leaders of both nations will now take into account the changing and complex global situation as well as increasing world challenges.

"The importance of the Sino-French meeting extends far beyond the bilateral level," Feng Zhongping, a European studies expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations said.

With developing countries gradually playing a more important role in world affairs, Feng said the bilateral meeting to an extent also represents talks between the developed and the developing nations. "France will host the G20 summit in 2011, and it knows it is important to cooperate with emerging new powers because their influence is growing."

"The reason why China attaches so much importance to France is also because of the country's influence in the EU," Ding Yifan, a French studies expert at the Development Research Center of the State Council said.

Besides mutual interests at the national level, Ding said China also understands that France plays an important role in uniting the voice of the EU as a whole and hopes to better that relationship. "However, that current role is not as big as before," Ding added.

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