Chinese President Begins State Visit to France

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, right, and Chinese President Hu Jintao, salute the French flag, shortly after the arrival of Hu Jintao at Paris Orly airport Thursday Nov. 4, 2010. Chinese President Hu Jintao is on a two-day state visit in France.(AP Pho

Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Paris to a red-carpet welcome at the start of a three-day state visit expected to seal multi-billion-dollar trade deals between China and France.

Mr. Hu was greeted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy as he arrived at Orly airport Thursday, then treated to a motorcade through the streets of Paris, decorated with Chinese flags.

The high-profile and potentially profitable visit comes as China is pressing European governments to boycott a ceremony awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, to be held December 10.

Western diplomats said Thursday a number of European embassies had received letters asking them not to attend the ceremony and to refrain from issuing statements of support for Liu.

Numerous world leaders and international rights groups have called for Liu's release.

Activists have complained that Mr. Sarkozy has not placed human rights on the agenda for the visit.

The France visit is the first foreign trip for Mr. Hu since this year's Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Liu last month.

Mr. Sarkozy said ahead of Mr. Hu's arrival that China should not be seen as a risk, but as "an opportunity."

The countries were to sign billions of dollars in contracts, including the sale to China of 36 Airbus aircraft for $3.78 billion, a deal between French telecom maker Alcatel-Lucent and Chinese cell phone companies, and nuclear energy agreements.

The two leaders have not scheduled a joint press conference as is customary during a state visit. That has led to speculation they are seeking to avoid questions about the Nobel winner.

Mr. Sarkozy also is expected to seek Mr. Hu's support for a proposed package of reforms in the operations of the Group of 20 leading economic powers. France is to assume the chairmanship of the G20 following the group's summit next week in South Korea.

French-Chinese relations have only recently mended after Mr. Sarkozy angered China in 2008 with remarks about Tibet.

Mr. Hu also will visit Portugal during his European trip.

Some information for this report was provided by NYT, AP, AP and BBC