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'Misunderstandings' with China are bygones: French PM

December 24, 2009

By Benjamin Sportouch (AFP)  5 hours ago

BEIJING - French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told Chinese students
Tuesday that any "misunderstandings" between Paris and Beijing were a
thing of the past, following a heated row last year over Tibet.

Fresh from sealing lucrative business deals during an official visit to
China, Fillon told students at Beijing's Beihang University that both
sides now wanted to move forward on the basis of "mutual respect."

"It's true that there have been misunderstandings in Sino-French
relations," Fillon said as he wrapped up his three-day trip, adding that
such incidents were "sometimes very exaggerated."

"I think they were nothing but misunderstandings. We've worked to clear
them up and we want to build our relations on mutual respect," he said,
without elaborating on the nature of the spat.

Fillon -- who said his trip was aimed at "speeding up relations" --
later met China's President Hu Jintao and parliamentary speaker Wu
Bangguo to wrap up the formal meetings of his trip.

Hu congratulated the French prime minister on the "positive results"
achieved during the visit, which included a multi-billion-dollar
aviation deal.

Fillon replied that bilateral relations had "made advances very
quickly," lauding their "deep and enduring" cooperation.

Ties between the two nations deteriorated last year when pro-Tibet
protesters disrupted the Paris leg of China's around-the-world Olympic
torch relay.

They hit a low point in December 2008 when French President Nicolas
Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, whom
Beijing accuses of seeking independence for the Himalayan region -- a
claim the monk denies.

Four months later, though, the two countries were officially reconciled
on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in London, and Sarkozy subsequently
invited Hu to visit France.

Fillon said Tuesday the strengthening of bilateral ties would be
highlighted by "two very important events": Sarkozy's trip to China next
year for the opening of World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, and Hu's planned
visit to France.

Fillon will leave China later Tuesday with 6.3 billion euros (nine
billion dollars) worth of contracts signed, a source close to the talks

French aerospace and defence industries group Safran and US conglomerate
General Electric won a multi-billion-dollar contract to equip China's
future C919 passenger jet with engines, Safran chief executive Jean-Paul
Herteman said.

The C919 -- built by state-linked Commercial Aircraft Corporation of
China (COMAC) and due to be ready for service in about 2016, according
to state media -- is seen as a future competitor to the Airbus A320 and
the Boeing 737.

The deal could possibly be worth 15 billion dollars over 30 years,
Herteman told reporters.
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