Climate, economic ties top agenda as Chinese PM visits France

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (second-Left) and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang (centre) attend a welcoming ceremony at the Hotel National des Invalides, in Paris, France on June 30, 2015.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (second-Left) and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang (centre) attend a welcoming ceremony at the Hotel National des Invalides, in Paris, France on June 30, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (AFP) - Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang begins a three-day visit to France on Tuesday (30 June) that is expected to be dominated by climate talks and the sealing of dozens of economic accords between the two nations.

Mr Li said in Brussels on Monday that China - the world's biggest polluter - was on the brink of releasing its hotly-awaited national pledges to reduce carbon emissions beyond 2020, and there has been speculation he will make the announcement in Paris.

"By the end of this month, the Chinese side will submit to the UN secretariat on climate change our intended nationally determined contribution," Mr Li said before his visit to France which falls on the last day of the month.

The French capital is hosting climate talks in December in the latest bid to seal a global deal to stem climate change, and Paris is hoping a Chinese announcement will give impetus to negotiations which United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday were moving at a "snail's pace".

Sources in French Prime Minister Manuel Valls's entourage said a Chinese announcement could also push the world's third-largest greenhouse gas emitter India to set a clear target to reduce emissions.

China and India, along with Brazil and South Africa, have criticised rich countries - who they say have been polluting the world for longer - for failing to finance efforts by developing nations to reduce their emissions.

Diplomatic sources said Mr Li will be given "very high level" protocol treatment on his visit to France, which comes six months after Mr Valls travelled to Beijing and called for more French products to be exported to China to "rebalance" trade between the two countries.

China's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Chao said the mutual visits showed the "high level" of relations between the two countries.

France, which is struggling with weak growth and record high unemployment, imports two and a half times as much from China as flows in the opposite direction. In 2013, Paris ran a 26 billion euro (S$39 billion) deficit with the Asian giant.

53 deals on the table

Some 53 commercial and industrial accords are expected to be inked on Li's trip including "significant contracts for tens of billions of euros" with European aerospace giant Airbus, energy group Alstom, French container shipping company CMA-CGM and French electricity giant Engie, said sources close to Mr Valls.

Paris is in particular hoping that Chinese companies will order the Airbus A330 and A330-Neo in return for Airbus investment in a centre at its Tianjin base which will allow China to "customise" the A330s they buy.

The two nations are also expected to sign an agreement on joint infrastructure projects to be carried out in Asian and African countries.

China, which is struggling with an industrial overcapacity and a slowdown in domestic demand, is pushing its companies to seek new markets abroad and could take advantage of French experience in these markets.

French authorities will also raise the prickly human rights issue with their guest, by expressing their "concerns" over new legislation being drawn up in Beijing such as a law governing NGOs, an anti-terrorist law and a law on national security, said a diplomatic source.

Mr Li will attend a lunch meeting with President Francois Hollande on Tuesday before meeting with Mr Valls. On Wednesday he will head to the southern city of Marseille where he will be met by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who has visited China twice since March last year.

He will wrap up his tour of France in the southern city of Toulouse where he and Mr Valls will attend a France-China seminar attended by hundreds of Chinese enterprises. Mr Li will also visit the Airbus headquarters in the city.