France and China should take the lead in forging Sino-EU relations, says Xi Jinping during tour
China and France were expected to sign a number of major business deals as President Xi Jinping and his French counterpart Francois Hollande met in Paris late last night.
Details have been closely guarded by both sides. The only deal certain to be signed is one that will see Chinese firm Dongfeng take a stake in troubled French car giant Peugeot.
An agreement on the joint construction of civilian helicopters between Airbus Helicopters and China is also expected.
Xi and Hollande were set to oversee the signing of a raft of trade agreements after their talks.
Watch: China’s Xi kicks off French trip with wine and cheese
Xi's visit marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Recognition of the People's Republic of China by France in 1964 in the face of anti-communist hostility elsewhere in the West forms part of France's claim to a special relationship.
France lags behind some European neighbours, especially Germany, in trade and investment links with China.
China was seeking to help the relationship achieve its full potential, both economically and politically, mainland scholars said.
"The bilateral relationship has gone below expectations in the past decade, despite its high starting point," said Cui Hongjian , director of European studies at the China Institute of International Studies, under the Foreign Ministry.
Cui suggested that co-operation could deepen in the aviation and nuclear power sectors.
"Given the rapid growth of China's science and technology, it's time to step onto the stage of joint development," he said.
But French scholar Jean-Pierre Cabestan, the head of the political science department at Hong Kong Baptist University, said the French public was not as optimistic about the outcome of the talks. "The Sino-France relationship is asymmetrical at the moment, in favour of China," Cabestan said.
With its economy in bad shape, France has been focusing on bringing in more investment and job opportunities. The issues that concerned the French public the most, including Tibet and human rights, had been put aside in favour of trade, he said.
"China has become a country whose leader can travel around the world without being criticised," Cabestan said.
"There have not yet been any anti-China demonstrations during Xi's visit to Europe - a big change from the Hu and Jiang eras. It's a reflection and illustration of the reality that the European economy has not recovered from the crisis," he said.
Earlier, Xi and his glamorous singer-wife Peng Liyuan began the French leg of their trip in the eastern city of Lyons, a former silk centre that forged enduring links with China from the 16th century.
"My visit to France … will allow me to work with President Francois Hollande … to sum up 50 years of Sino-French relations and to plan the future together," Xi said at an official dinner.
The couple visited bioMerieux, a French diagnostics firm run by a prominent Lyons business dynasty that has old trade links with China.
"In the near future, the Chinese health sector will greatly develop and this will be in the interest of the Chinese people and the whole world," Xi said.
He then visited the city's Franco-Chinese Institute before leaving for Paris.
France is the second country on Xi's 10-day, four-nation European tour. He previously visited the Netherlands and will also visit Germany and Belgium.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters