France's Charles de Gaulle, 1st Western leader to recognise Beijing, is enshrined in China

BEIJING (AFP) - A statue of late French president Charles de Gaulle was unveiled in Beijing on Friday to be permanently displayed in the National Museum on Tiananmen Square in an exceptional honour for a foreign head of state.

The bronze, by Jean Cardot, is a replica of one on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, showing the French leader striding along in military uniform and his distinctive kepi.

It was unveiled by visiting French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, at the culmination of year-long commemorations of 50 years of diplomatic relations between Paris and the People's Republic.

De Gaulle broke ranks with the United States in 1964 to establish full formal ties with Beijing, as part of an effort to forge a separate role for France in a Cold War dominated by the US and Soviet Union.

"More than half a century ago General de Gaulle had these words about his decision: 'It was the weight of evidence and reason,'" Valls said.

"Long live Franco-Chinese friendship," he added.

Earlier Valls told an audience of Chinese businessmen: "France did not wait for your glorious rise before having confidence in you".

De Gaulle commands admiration in China as both a strong leader and for the diplomatic move, which helped Mao Zedong's government gain global recognition at a time when most Western countries recognised Taipei instead.

Earlier Friday, Valls met Chinese President Xi Jinping, who told him that Beijing wanted to go "higher and further" than the 50-year commemorations to seek "the happiness of the Chinese, the French, and all the peoples of the world".

The French premier is seeking a "rebalance" in Franco-Chinese trade, where the Asian giant enjoys a multi-billion-dollar surplus.

After talks with Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday, Valls said he hoped "French products will have better access to the Chinese market".

At the beginning of the year-long diplomatic anniversary the bullet-sprayed car in which de Gaulle escaped assassination, as portrayed in Frederick Forsyth's 1971 thriller "The Day of the Jackal" and the subsequent film, went on show at the same museum in Beijing.

The black Citroen DS 19 sped de Gaulle and his wife to safety in 1962 despite taking around 20 shots from opponents of Algerian independence.

At the time of that exhibition Wu Jianmin, a former Chinese ambassador to Paris, told AFP: "General de Gaulle was the first Western head of state to see, to predict the rise of China."

"This car represents the courage of the general. His decisions were truly of great significance, and for decisions of this type there is a price," Wu said.

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