Mainland visitors have reached record numbers but not all officials are happy Wearing a yellow T-shirt and short skirt, Christine Leblanc is giving away free samples of Christian Breton perfume beneath the spectacular Art Nouveau dome of Galeries Lafayette, one of Paris' most famous department stores. 'We have more Chinese clients than Japanese now,' she said. 'They are big spenders, especially on perfume, skin cream and other cosmetics. One Chinese lady bought 12 bottles of perfume, each for 45 euros (HK$393),' she said. A group of 25 visitors, from China's northeast cities of Dalian and Shenyang, examines goods in the store. 'During this trip, I plan to spend 3,000 euros,' said Wang Guomin, a businessman from Shenyang. 'I plan to buy clothes, perfume and other items for my wife, family and friends. I like Paris. It is the No1 destination in Europe for Chinese.' Mr Wang's budget is an average one, said Gu Yongqing, director-general of the China International Travel Service in Paris. 'Chinese buy things they cannot find at home. They want famous brands that are cheaper here. For example, I bought my wife in Beijing the latest Lancel handbag for 158 euros. She told me that in Beijing it costs three times as much to buy a Lancel bag, which is an out-of-date model.' They buy expensive brands because they know it is the real thing and not a fake - which it might be at home - and because it has the prestige of coming from Paris. This flood of money is greatly appreciated in France, which receives more tourists than any other country - last year 76 million people. But the September 11 attacks, a fear of terrorism and the fall of the US dollar have cut the number of American visitors, for years the biggest spenders. Official figures released last week showed that, compared with the same months last year, the number of foreign tourists to Paris fell 10 per cent in July and between five and 10 per cent last month, a total drop of 466,000 visitors. Last year, Chinese overtook Americans as No1 foreign visitors to the 114-year-old Moulin Rouge. Of its 300,000 foreign clients last year, 40,000 were Chinese - who spent 2.5 million euros - up from 10,000 Chinese in 1999. A total of 540,000 Chinese tourists visited France last year. All this is good news for the Paris tourism bureau. But the numbers evoke a different reaction from Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, who has made the fight against illegal immigration one of the platforms of the new government that took office last year. This ambiguity towards Chinese is the reason why France does not grant them tourist visas. Those who visit have either a business visa or one granted to those coming on government business. 'The government is in a dilemma,' said one Chinese official. 'Tourism is an important part of its economy and China is one of the biggest future markets. 'But it has a fear of illegal immigration. No one knows how many Chinese are living here without papers.' 'If France wants to attract more Chinese - and so many want to come - it should make the regulations more flexible.' France's ambiguity has prevented it from signing an agreement with China, despite years of talks, to issue tourist visas. The only EU country to do so was Germany, in February this year, to the annoyance of the European Commission, which said it, and not individual countries, should sign such a deal because there were no border controls between the 12 EU countries that had signed the Schengen Agreement. A Chinese who has entered Germany can, therefore, enter any of the other 11 countries without passing through an immigration post. In the talks, Brussels was insisting on a clause that would give EU countries the right to repatriate Chinese tourists that overstayed. But Beijing refuses to accept such a clause, saying that it is not included in the more than 20 agreements it has signed with other countries. Mr Gu said that the German decision had been a shock to other countries in Western Europe. 'France depends more on tourism than Germany. The agreement could hasten negotiations with other countries,' he said. 'My view is that other EU countries, including France, should open their borders to Chinese, to regularise the situation of tourists. 'For its part, the Chinese government should continue to improve the standard of living at home, so that fewer and fewer people want to come here illegally.'