Days after Beijing and Paris ended a dispute over Tibet, China is considering sending a business delegation to France.
Former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin made the announcement on the sidelines of the 15th China-France Economic Forum held on Wednesday in Beijing.
"Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming just told me that China is considering it," he told reporters, without elaborating.
Economic cooperation between France and China suffered after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Dalai Lama in December.
In February, a Chinese business delegation skirted around France and signed $15 billion in deals with other European countries. Premier Wen Jiabao's European trip earlier that month also excluded the country.
"I understood," Raffarin said. "Political problems always cast shadows over economic cooperation."
On April 1, China and France issued a statement which said France fully recognizes "the importance and sensitivity of the Tibet issue" and that France refuses to support any form of Tibet independence.
"We have walked out of mutual misunderstanding in 2008 and entered a new phase," Raffarin said. "France wants China to know that now we know more about Chinese people and know more about the past of Tibet."
Without political factors in the way, China and France are ready to put their relationship back on track, Raffarin said. "This time, the Chinese delegation will go to France and France only."
For France, what really matters now "is not how many goods China buys, but to keep long-term friendly cooperation with China", he said.
Paris will send high-ranking French officials to Beijing in the coming weeks, Raffarin said on Wednesday.
The big names include National Assembly of France president Bernard Accoyer, former French president Jacques Chirac, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and Anne Marie Idrac, French minister for economy, industry and employment.
At the same time, Paris is "eagerly expecting" the visit of President Hu Jintao, which is very likely to come this year, Raffarin said.
Sarkozy invited Hu to visit his country during his Olympic tour in Beijing last summer.
Raffarin is leading a delegation of more than 40 French entrepreneurs to the Chinese capital, all with long-term investment plans in the country.
They previously met Chinese officials including Vice Premier Li Keqiang.
About 1,900 French companies have invested in China, employing 250,000.
Feng Zhongping, an expert in European studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said it is not surprising that China will send a business delegation to France soon.
"Our economic relations with France suffered a lot from political differences in the past year," he said.
Now that Beijing and Paris are determined to repair ties, the first thing on the agenda should be enhancing economic cooperation to deal with the financial crisis, Feng said.
Despite the disputes, China has always cherished its friendship with France, the first Western country to establish diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China, he said.
(China Daily April 9, 2009)