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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Li's Visit Sours Over Unspoken Juppe Toast

PARIS -- France and China signed a further trade agreement Thursday in a show of business as usual after a diplomatic clash over human rights that soured a controversial visit by Chinese Premier Li Peng.

Li and President Jacques Chirac attended an unscheduled ceremony at which state-owned French plane-makers Aerospatiale and Aviation Industries of China, or AVIC, signed an undertaking to discuss developing a 100-seat plane for the Chinese domestic market, with other Asian and European partners.

Li showed his displeasure Wednesday night at France's intention to raise human rights and democracy, even in mild terms, by keeping Prime Minister Alain Juppe waiting 90 minutes and forcing him to cancel a planned exchange of dinner toasts.

Only after Juppe agreed to drop the speeches did the Chinese visitors go ahead with signing contracts totalling 10 billion francs ($2 billion), mostly for 33 European Airbus aircraft.

French ministers denied Juppe had given in to pressure, but newspapers and opposition politicians charged he had backed down and allowed Li Peng, branded the "butcher of Tiananmen Square" over the crushing of a 1989 democracy movement, to censor him.

"We gave in to Mr. Li's whims," opposition Socialist Party spokesman Francois Hollande said. "He didn't want that paragraph read, so the speech wasn't read."

"Li Peng buys, Juppe shuts up," the tabloid Le Parisien said in a headline. The left-wing daily Liberation proclaimed: "China censors Jupp?'s speech."

Civil Service Minister Dominique Perben, one of more than 100 guests kept waiting by Li, said: "I believe no one gave in."

The diplomatic incident came too late for the first edition of the conservative daily Le Figaro, which published extracts of Jupp?'s speech as if he had delivered it, enabling readers to judge how cautious the offending references were.

Le Figaro quoted the text as saying France believed that "all durable economic and social development is accompanied by parallel progress in democracy and human rights."

"We are not looking for confrontation on this essential issue but ... for a dialogue to promote practically the universal values to which France has always been fundamentally attached," Juppe had planned to say.

On Wednesday, China signed its biggest order so far with the European Airbus consortium to buy 30 short-haul A320 planes and confirmed the purchase of three long-haul A340s.

And Foreign Minister Herve de Charette told reporters he had given Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen a list of about 20 political prisoners whose release France sought.