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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Big Deals for French Firms in China

BEIJING -- French companies netted Chinese deals for nuclear reactors and Airbus passenger jets worth around $29.62 billion on Monday, the second day of a state visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy and Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao presided over a series of signings following talks at the Great Hall of the People, the hulking legislative seat beside Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

The visit has focused firmly on trade relations, with human rights all but left off the agenda.

China's Foreign Ministry said the big-ticket purchases showed how Beijing was working to reduce its trade surplus with France. Sarkozy has also urged the Communist leadership to let its currency rise before trade imbalances become unmanageable.

"China wants balanced trade with its trading partners and the purchases of these airplanes is a sign of how it is striving for that," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters at a briefing.

The deals and Sarkozy's gentle approach to French concerns over China's authoritarian communist regime seemed aimed at putting the relationship on a firm footing, six months after his election as a reformer pledging to stand by "all those who are persecuted by tyrannies, by dictatorships."

In Monday's single biggest agreement, China committed to buying 160 commercial passenger jets from European plane maker Airbus, which is headquartered in France. The deal is worth around $14.8 billion.

The order includes 110 of the company's A320 jets and 50 of the slightly larger A330 planes, Airbus officials said. Airbus and Chinese partners this summer signed an agreement to produce A320s in China in anticipation of large Chinese orders for the popular single-aisle jet, which seats 150 or more passengers.

In other agreements, France's state-owned Areva SA finalized a $11.9 billion contract to sell two nuclear reactors to state-run China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp. in one of the company's largest contracts ever.

French, U.S. and Russian suppliers have been hotly vying for contracts in China, which plans to build as many as 32 nuclear plants by 2020 as it tries to meet surging power demands while cutting emissions and reducing reliance on imported oil.

While the exact value of the plane sales wasn't known, French officials speaking on routine condition of anonymity said all contracts -- including those for jets and reactors -- signed Monday added up to about $29.62 billion.

Sarkozy also addressed the touchy issue of China's currency, the yuan, which many trading partners insist is undervalued, making Chinese products unfairly cheap and boosting its trade surplus with France and the rest of Europe.

"We need to arrive at currency rates that are harmonious and fair and that will benefit the global economy. This means that, for its own sake as well, China needs to accelerate the appreciation of the yuan against the euro," Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy warned also of the environmental costs of China's rapid economic growth.

"We hope China's growth can continue, but we also hope China's growth is carbon-free and environmentally friendly. We believe this is in China's interests and the interests of the entire world," he said.

Hu described the talks as "frank" and "friendly" and said Sarkozy had accepted an invitation to attend the opening ceremony for next year's Beijing Summer Olympic Games.