PARIS - President Hu Jintao arrived in the French capital on Thursday to kick off a three-day state visit, which the French president said will be of the highest reception level.
Hu was greeted by a grand welcome ceremony right at the airport given by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife. It was the first time that the presidential couple went to the airport in person to welcome foreign leaders, which French diplomats say conveys the importance that France attaches to the visit of Chinese state leader.
The two leaders were expected to have bilateral meetings as well as witness the signing of a historically huge trade bill, including the purchase of more than 100 Airbus jets and nuclear plant projects.
Sarkozy, though exhausted by continuous strikes at home, will accompany Hu all Friday in Nice for more in-depth and private talks, and will also host Hu in a restaurant which is his personal favorite. All these arrangements are rare for state visits, said diplomatic sources.
In a written speech issued upon his arrival, Hu said China and France, both members of the United Nations Security Council, shoulder important responsibilities for international affairs. He also noted the two share vast common interests and have huge potential for cooperation.
The president expected broad contacts with French leaders and people from all circles in the trip to push forward the comprehensive strategic partnership. It is the first trip by a Chinese state leader to France since Sarkozy assumed office as president in 2007.
Analysts said that coordination on G20 and other global affairs are among the top items on the agenda during Hu's visit.
Mei Zhaorong, a former Chinese ambassador in Europe, said France, scheduled to chair the G20 at the start of 2011, is in urgent need of cooperation from China.
A successful G20 chairmanship, and also many global policies as proposed by France will need the cooperation with China. "That is also one of the reasons behind the extremely high importance Sarkozy attached to Hu's visit," he said.
Analysts also said that as China and France advance their cooperation, it will have an impact on the global political landscape as some western powers are still adopting some cold war mentality toward China in some affairs.
In addition to political and global issues, the visit by Hu will also witness concrete agreements to be signed.
Plane maker Airbus and nuclear energy giant Avena are reported to be the major winners of the Chinese deals in the visit.
"Such deals are likely to have a deep influence on re-vitalization of the European economy and help them get rid of the shadow cast by the economic crisis," he said.
Liu Jiansheng, an expert on European studies with the China Institute of International Studies, said the nuclear plant pacts show that the two nations are seeking to break through the traditional trade cooperation to forge a new pattern, especially in the green industry.
France was the first Western country to have nuclear technology exchanges with China.
It was also the first nation from the West to forge ambassador-level diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China.
However, ties between France and China have been tense in recent years following a number of diplomatic spats. Sarkozy and Hu patched up relations during a visit by the French leader to Beijing in April.
Since then, Beijing has adopted a more friendly tone. Hu told the pro-government French newspaper Le Figaro on Tuesday that China wants to go beyond simple commercial and investment issues to create a "partnership of equals" with Paris.
This will involve "new partnerships in energy, the environment, information technology, high-end industry, new energy sources and new materials", Hu said.
Trade and economic cooperation between the two countries has experienced an average annual growth rate of about 18 percent over the past 10 years, he said.
Since the two countries have differences in national conditions, social systems, the stage of economic development, culture and history, it was natural for them to have certain different views and stands, Chinese Ambassador to France Kong Quan said on Monday.
"What's more important is that the leaders and peoples of the two nations agree to promote candid dialogue and exchanges to enhance understanding and trust on the basis of mutual respect."
Meanwhile, they should also attach importance to each other's core interests and major concerns, Kong stressed.