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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
Chirac bid to lift China arms ban
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC Paris correspondent

French President Jacques Chirac says he regards the European arms embargo on China as outdated and wants it lifted as soon as possible.

Jacques Chirac (right) meets Chinese Premier Wen Jibao
Chirac (right) sees rich opportunities in China's boom
His remarks came ahead of his visit to China on Friday, and again France finds itself at odds with the US.

Washington is urging the EU not to lift an embargo that was imposed after the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square.

Mr Chirac's trip to China is aimed at boosting flourishing trade relations.

When Chinese President Hu Jintao visited France earlier this year, Paris not only laid out the red carpet but turned the Eiffel Tower red in his honour and named 2004 the Year of China.

Now that Gallic charm offensive appears to be paying off as Mr Chirac makes his return visit to Beijing.

China is a political and economic priority for France, an area in which it is competing fiercely and successfully with the US for business and influence.

French arms

America may have been faster to woo China, but France is doing its best to catch up. Mr Chirac is bringing with him four ministers and more than 50 leading French businessmen to discuss deals with China.

French aerobatic display team in China
The French aerobatic display team is in China with Mr Chirac
Among the biggest is an $8bn (4.47bn or 6.48bn euros) contract to construct four nuclear reactors there, with a Franco-German group pitted against an Anglo-American bid.

Another major project is the planned high-speed train from Beijing to Shanghai, for which France believes its TGV trains would be ideal.

As Mr Chirac has made clear, he also believes French defence companies could do well in China - if only Europe would lift its arms embargo.

However, the sensitive issue of human rights in China is unlikely to figure high on the agenda during the French president's visit.

In the short term, France is unlikely to catch up with the level of German investment in the lucrative Chinese market, but its efforts are helping to ensure that if present trends continue, Europe as a whole could soon be China's largest trading partner.

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