BEIJING (AFP) - China's President Xi Jinping heralded the establishment of diplomatic ties with France 50 years ago as a "historic event" on Thursday as he welcomed a top official from Paris.
The two nations are marking the establishment of ties - which in 1964 bolstered the standing of the relatively young People's Republic of China - with art exhibitions and fast-track visas to France, among other measures.
"President Mao Zedong and General de Gaulle took the historic decision to establish diplomatic relations," Mr Xi said, as he greeted National Assembly speaker Claude Bartolone at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
"That had a profound impact on the evolution of international relations."
France broke ranks with the United States when it set up ties with Mao's government on January 27, 1964, in a surprise move that paved the way for China to gain global recognition.
Washington was still insisting that the Nationalist regime that had retreated to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war should be considered the legitimate government of all of China.
The decision came as De Gaulle sought a middle path during the Cold War between the US and its allies on one side, and the Communist world on the other.
By comparison Britain only established full diplomatic relations with China in 1972 and the US in 1979.
Mr Bartolone, who is accompanied by a parliamentary delegation, will spend the weekend in China's northeast and return to Beijing on Monday, the anniversary itself, for an official banquet.
His trip comes as Chinese prepare for their biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year.
"We are very happy to be able to celebrate this important moment at such a festive time for the Chinese people," Mr Bartolone said.
In a new visa policy that goes into force on Monday, Chinese visitors' travel requests to France will be processed in 48 hours.
Exhibitions will also be held in China showcasing the work of leading French artists such as Impressionist painter Claude Monet, and in Paris displaying treasures from China's ancient Han dynasty.