PARIS (AFP) - Chinese visitors to France - the world's top tourist destination - are to get fast-track visas as part of celebrations marking the 50-year anniversary of Paris establishing full diplomatic ties with Communist Beijing.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced the measure on Monday as he unveiled year-long events feting the Jan 27, 1964 date on which France broke ranks with the US to open ties with the then-government of Mao Zedong - a decision that paved the way for China to gain global recognition.
Fabius told a press conference that former French president Charles De Gaulle's "pioneering" decision "gave France a special position in China" which had been buttressed over the years.
De Gaulle's decision caused diplomatic shockwaves at a time when the United States was still insisting the nationalist regime that had escaped to Taiwan should be considered the legitimate government of all of China.
It came amid the backdrop of the Cold War, with De Gaulle making efforts to seek a middle path for France in the confrontation between the US and its allies on the one hand and the communist world on the other.
"It was a visionary decision with respect to a great power in the making, whose importance in world affairs today bears testimony to it," Fabius said.
By way of comparison, full diplomatic relations between China and Britain were only established in 1972, and in 1979 with the US.
The events will include exhibitions in China showcasing the works of leading French artists such as Impressionist painter Claude Monet and sculptor Auguste Rodin.
An exhibition on De Gaulle, France's wartime resistance hero who served as president between 1959 and 1969, will also take place and a bullet-riddled Citroen car in which he survived an assassination attempt by opponents of Algerian independence will be sent to China.
Treasures from China's Han dynasty will be on display in Paris among several other events.
Fabius also announced the new visa regime under which Chinese visitors' travel requests will be processed within 48 hours, due to come into force on Jan 27.
"This will also be an occasion to promote France as a tourist destination to the Chinese public," Fabius said.
France is the prime European destination for Chinese tourists, with a record 1.4 million visitors from China last year.
The inauguration event for the year-long anniversary at the Grand Palais museum in Paris will include a solo performance by famed Chinese pianist Lang Lang.
China will also be the guest of honour at the Paris art fair in March, while the limelight will be on France in the Western China International Fair - an international expo - in Sichuan province, home of the pandas.