French President Nicolas Sarkozy's recent China tour was unprecedented in choice and timing. He selected Xi'an, an ancient capital in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, for his sentiments toward Chinese history instead of Beijing as the first leg of his state visit. He set foot in China six months after taking office, instead of waiting two years like most of his predecessors. And he was the first visiting foreign head of state since the country's ruling Communist Party concluded its historic 17th National Congress.
What Sarkozy and his Chinese hosts achieved during his stay was even more significant. The two sides inked trade deals worth more than $29 billion, including the purchase of 160 Airbus aircraft and two third-generation nuclear reactors from French nuclear giant Areva. They released a joint declaration on climate change, the first of its kind between China and a foreign country. The two sides also agreed to push forward their comprehensive strategic partnership to a new high.
This partnership was founded by Chinese President Hu Jintao and former French President Jacques Chirac in 2004. It is based on expansive political consensus, common economic interests and growing mutual understanding and trust. The past three years have witnessed improved political mutual trust, increased common interests, reciprocal economies and close cultural exchanges, while the Year of China in France and Year of France in China showcased the two countries' goodwill toward each other.
Already, during Sarkozy's short administration, the two countries, which share similar views on international issues, have reached a consensus to further develop their long-term ties.
China and France are complementary in the economic field. China is the largest developing economy and provides a huge market. France enjoys advanced technology and is a world leader in areas such as nuclear energy and aviation. It all bodes well for future cooperation.
Besides trade and the economy, the two sides explored new frontiers for future cooperation during Sarkozy's visit, ranging from climate change to prevention and control of infectious disease, energy security and sustainable development in Africa.
The partnership between Beijing and Paris can also be seen within the context of Sino-EU relations. Sarkozy arrived just days before the 10th China-EU Summit, which was held in Beijing. The 11th summit will be convened in France in November 2008, over which Hu and Sarkozy will jointly preside. In the second half of 2008, France will hold the rotating presidency of the EU, during which Sarkozy vowed he would promote the recognition of China's status as a total market economy. All these provided or will provide opportunities for France to play a positive role in the EU and make a greater contribution in pushing forward the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership.
Besides political and economic issues, Sarkozy found time to come face to face with the terracotta warriors in Xi'an and stroll along the Bund in avant-garde Shanghai. He also accepted an invitation to attend the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. This may be an indication that culture, tourism and sports are also areas where China and France can accelerate their cooperation in the future.