After three years of planning and nine months of mutual admiration, France's staging of the Year of China festival has been hailed a record-breaking success. The cultural exchange attracted a record number of participants for such a programme of event, said Olivier Poivre d'Arvor, director of the French Association for Artistic Action, the French government's cultural arm abroad. By the time a fireworks display on Friday in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles near Paris ended the cultural exchange, more than 2.5 million visitors had bought tickets to events and thousands more had participated in street parades and exhibitions throughout France. 'China has now become very fashionable here,' Mr Poivre d'Arvor said. 'China does not open up easily, but culture is more important there than in many other places. It provides a very good network of exchanges.' While the European Union last week dealt a blow to China trade by denying it market-economy status, France still has its eyes on the rapidly growing Chinese economy. The cultural festival was the brainchild of French President Jacques Chirac and former Chinese premier Jiang Zemin to mark 40 years since France resumed diplomatic relations with China. The event, which will be reciprocated with a Year of France starting in October in China, has been described as one of the largest exchanges between the two countries. The motivation behind the partnership is clear. China is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and France is keen to get its share of the potential goldmine. China, on the other hand, is eager to be accepted as a world power. This festival, as well as the summer Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 and the planned World Fair in Shanghai in 2010, demonstrate China's will to open up to the world. 'The Year of China was decided in the name of a global relationship,' said Pierre Letocart, the French government's chief economic representative in Beijing. 'China is very important for French businesses and although the festival doesn't have an immediate economic impact, it serves to reinforce China's image in France. It definitely contributes to the general interest of people who are thinking of investing in China.' There are 1,400 French business outlets in China. Although French exports to China rose 32 per cent last year to $5.5 billion, Chinese exports to France were three times larger at $16.2 billion in 2003. France has only a 1.5 per cent share of the Chinese import market and is keen to boost this figure. The festival cost France $24 million, half of which was provided by the French state and the other half by French corporations. Both parties hope to reap long-term returns from this exchange. The cultural mingling of the two nations will step up a notch again when the Year of France kicks off on October 10. The festival will include exhibitions of French culture and industry in eight Chinese cities: Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Pingyao, Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai.