Chinese president to savor secret, sumptuous menu as part of France's charm offensive

The Associated Press

Chinese President Xi Jinping, centre left, and France's Prime Minister Jean Marc Ayrault, leave after a meeting in Paris, Thursday March 27, 2014. Deal-making and commemorations of a half-century of French diplomatic ties with Communist China were the order of business during Xi's three-day visit, part of his European tour. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

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By SYLVIE CORBET, Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — The menu will remain secret, but there's no doubt that famed chef Alain Ducasse has concocted a sumptuous meal for the Chinese president as he wraps up his state visit to France in the Palace of Versailles.

Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, were invited to a private dinner with just President Francois Hollande on Thursday, after attending a concert at the Royal Opera at Versailles — chosen as a symbol of French culture.

France launched a charm offensive for Xi's visit, hoping for bigger business opportunities with China. About 50 commercial accords were signed worth an estimated total of 18 billion euros ($24.8 billion).

The three-day visit, which prompted small protests and tangled Paris transport, celebrates the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and China.

"Welcome to France, Mr. president. You are here in a friendly country," Hollande told his Chinese counterpart during a ceremony Thursday. He didn't mention human rights or media freedom issues that activists hoped he would raise with the Chinese president.

France's Socialist leader praised the "spirit of adventure" of President Charles de Gaulle in 1964, when France broke with many Western allies and recognized Communist China's government.

Hollande hardly hid his envy for China's growth — more than 7 percent "in the bad years" — while the French growth forecast for 2013 is just 0.3 percent. The two countries "have a common destiny... Europe must be the special partner of China, and France is available to help that rapprochement," Hollande said.

Earlier Thursday, the Chinese first lady — a famous soprano— was nominated as a UNESCO special envoy for the advancement of female education, at the Paris headquarters of the U.N. agency.

The Chinese president was due to go to Germany on Friday for the next stage of his European tour.

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