French PM in China for talks to boost trade

BEIJING (AP): France's prime minister arrived in Beijing on Sunday for meetings with Chinese leaders amid expectations of improved business ties now that relations have warmed a year after the French president angered China by meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon will meet with President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and the head of China's national legislature, Wu Bangguo, during his three-day visit. The two sides will sign a series of agreements to boost trade ties.

The visit comes a year after China froze relations between the countries because French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking Tibetan independence from Chinese rule.

Sarkozy's meeting with him prompted China to cancel talks with the European Union and sparked a popular Chinese backlash against French products.

Sarkozy restored contact with Hu during international summits in the United States in April and September and bilateral visits of high-level officials have since increased. Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming visited France last month with a delegation of Chinese business leaders.

Fillon, who is expected to be accompanied by a large business delegation, did not make remarks to reporters upon his arrival at the airport Sunday.

In an interview with China's official Xinhua News Agency, Fillon said that France hoped to strengthen cooperation with China in nuclear power, aviation, environmental protection, medical services and other fields.

The French prime minister's visit comes ahead of a visit to China by Sarkozy next year.

French business leaders have worried the political scuffle over Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama would affect trade with China. After the meeting it suspended high-level contacts and shut France out of lucrative European buying trips by Chinese delegations.

Trade retaliation is one of the most potent weapons in China's arsenal as businesses all over the world compete for a piece of the Asian giant's mammoth economy.

Beijing considers the Dalai Lama an agent of Tibet's independence from China and objects to all meetings between the Dalai Lama and foreign leaders. Ties with France were only righted after France in April pledged to reject Tibetan independence in "any form."

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