BEIJING – French defense contractor Safran SA and General Electric secured a reported $15 billion deal to supply engines for China's newest, biggest commercial passenger jet — one of several agreements signed during the French prime minister's visit amid warming ties.
Relations between the two countries have improved since Beijing froze them last year after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing accuses of seeking Tibetan independence from Chinese rule. Sarkozy restored contact with Chinese President Hu Jintao during international summits in April and September.
On Monday, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon met with his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing. Wen said both sides agreed to advance their partnership "on the basis of mutual respect and equality."
"Even though it is our first meeting in person, I feel like we are friends," Wen said to Fillon while reporters were present.
Fillon pointed to former French President Gen. Charles de Gaulle's recognition of the People's Republic of China more than four decades ago as evidence relations were close and enduring.
"Our two countries' partnership is unmatched," Fillon said in remarks translated from French. "General de Gaulle expresses the French people's feelings and generosity toward the Chinese people and expresses the value of mutual respect and friendship between the two peoples."
Officials from the two sides signed 12 pacts late Monday that would boost cooperation in nuclear energy cooperation, aviation, cultural exchange and environmental projects.
Safran said it will supply engines and other components of aircraft propulsion systems to Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, or COMAC, for China's first large passenger jet, the C919. China is counting on the narrow-body, single-aisle plane — the country's newest and biggest homegrown commercial jetliner — to compete against Western rivals in the high-stakes international aviation market.
The engines will be built by CFM International, a joint venture between Safran and General Electric. Safran Chief Executive Jean-Paul Herteman told French newspaper Les Echos on Monday that Safran's share of the deal would be worth 15 billion dollars over 30 years.
Earlier Monday, Fillon attended a ceremony to mark the final government approval of a joint venture between French energy provider EdF and Chinese state-run producer China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp. for the construction of two nuclear reactors in a deal that was announced last year.
The new company, Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture Company Ltd., which EdF holds a 30 percent stake in, started construction of the main bodies of the plants in September, according to a company statement. The first reactor should start operating in December 2013, it said.
Fillon will also meet with President Hu and the head of China's national legislature, Wu Bangguo, during his visit which wraps up Tuesday.
France's state-owned nuclear giant Areva SA is to provide nuclear equipment for the plants under a multibillion dollar (euro) contract finalized in November 2007, while another French company, Alstom SA, is to provide the turbine equipment.
"Nuclear cooperation is rooted in both our republics' aim to value technological innovation and energy independence," Fillon said.
French business leaders have worried the political scuffle over Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama would affect trade with China. Trade retaliation is one of the most potent weapons in China's arsenal as businesses all over the world compete for a piece of the Asian giant's mammoth economy. Ties with France were only righted after the French government in April pledged to reject Tibetan independence in "any form."