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Saturday, June 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Chinese order 20 Airbus jetliners

By Laurence Frost
The Associated Press

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PARIS — France's determination to boost ties with Beijing paid off yesterday with visiting Chinese officials signing orders for 20 Airbus jets and a satellite, plus cooperation agreements covering trains, helicopters and nuclear plants.

The visit by Deputy Prime Minister Zeng Peiyan and Chinese industry leaders builds on a new warming of bilateral ties after President Hu Jintao traveled to France five months ago.

The string of new contracts is an early sign that France can expect handsome dividends from President Jacques Chirac's strong and sometimes controversial political backing for China.

"France has affirmed its attachment to the One China principle and its opposition to the so-called 'independence' of Taiwan," Zeng told French business leaders Wednesday.

"We would like to give France our heartfelt thanks."

At a ceremony with French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the head of Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines, Ye Yigan, signed orders for 20 A330-200 planes with a catalog value of about $2 billion.

China Aviation Supplies Import and Export Group placed an option for another 10 wide-bodied jets from the European aircraft.

Satellite operator Chinasat also ordered a new satellite from the space division of French technology group Alcatel to broadcast pay-TV services across China.

The contract value was not disclosed.

During Hu's visit in January, Chirac spoke out against the Taiwan government's plan for a referendum on whether to reinforce the island's defenses.

Taiwan broke away from mainland China in 1949 but has been claimed by Beijing ever since.
In addition, French police have arrested dozens of members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement that is outlawed in China. France banned the group from a Chinese New Year Parade in Paris.

Along with Germany, France has also pushed — unsuccessfully — for a lifting of a European Union arms embargo against China despite concerns about its human-rights record.

"The development of commercial exchanges can also help bring improvements in human rights," said Isabelle Earith, a China expert at Medef, France's main employers' group.

But France is not alone in putting the booming Chinese economy at the top of its trade agendas.

The United States normalized trade ties with Beijing in 2000, paving the way for China's entry into the World Trade Organization the following year.

French exports to China increased 32 percent to $5.6 billion from 2002-2003, according to Medef, while imports rose 16 percent to $16.1 billion.

Dozens of French companies such as carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen, construction groups Vinci and Bouygues, power utility Electricite de France (EDF), engineering group Alstom and nuclear-plant builder Areva SA already have sizable operations in China.

Many of these companies are hoping for a share of the massive infrastructure spending China is planning ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, Earith said.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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