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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 January, 2004, 01:24 GMT
Chirac backs China on Taiwan
President Chirac welcomes Hu Jintao
Mr Hu is to address the French parliament on Tuesday
French President Jacques Chirac has lent his support to visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao in China's latest quarrel with Taiwan.

In a banquet to honour Mr Hu in Paris, Mr Chirac said Taiwan's proposed referendum on 20 March was a "grave mistake".

Voters on the island are to be asked if they think its defences should be strengthened because of China.

Observers see it as a possible move towards independence.

Taiwan has its own government, but any formal independence is fiercely opposed by China.

"Breaking the status quo with a unilateral destabilising initiative, whatever it is, including a referendum, would favour division over unity," said Mr Chirac.

Mr Chirac also mentioned the issue of human rights, but he said that he knew it was one of Mr Hu's "priorities".

Arms sales

Mr Chirac paid his Chinese counterpart the rare honour of meeting him in person at Paris' Orly airport.

In an arrival statement, Mr Hu said closer ties between their two countries - both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council who opposed the Iraq war - would help promote "peace, stability and prosperity in the world."

Earlier China also received strong support from France at an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.

The French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, argued that it was time to lift a ban imposed on arms sales to China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Ministers voted to keep the ban in place, but reports say the they agreed to reconsider the proposal at a future date.

Mr Hu is being given the rare honour of addressing the French parliament on Tuesday, although some French MPs say they will boycott the speech in a protest over human rights abuses.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says that, at an official level, France remains keen to boost trade as well as political relations with the world's fastest-growing economy.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"Paris remains keen to boost political relations with Beijing"

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