China's President Hu Jintao arrived Friday in the French Riviera for talks with France's Nicolas Sarkozy about the need for reform of the global monetary system.
The talks come a day after the two men oversaw the signing of billions of euros worth of business deals but avoided public discussion of human rights — to the dismay of activists and supporters of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
Hu is receiving a red-carpet welcome in France for a formal state visit this week, a far cry from the tense relations of two years ago, when Sarkozy threatened to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics out of anger about China's treatment of Tibet.
Fearful of losing big business in China's massive market, Sarkozy has since softened his tone.
Human rights activists gathered beneath the Chinese flags fluttering on the Champs-Elysees on Friday. As Hu's motorcade passed en route to the Arc de Triomphe, the activists opened white umbrellas toward the convoy, with large stickers bearing the words "Free Liu Xiaobo." Some activists were detained by plainclothes officers.
"Unrolling the red carpet for the Chinese president, fine, but behaving like a doormat for the Chinese president, no," said Jean-Francois Julliard, head of media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. "It's very good that we sell Airbus planes and reactors, we need it for the French economy ... but we cannot go against the values that France stands for."
Hu met Friday with Prime Minister Francois Fillon and former President Jacques Chirac before heading to Nice for a second round of talks with Sarkozy and a Provencal dinner.
The two leaders were to meet in a villa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, where sunbathers lounged in sunny weather on a pebble beach.
Sarkozy believes China's support is essential as France takes the leadership of the Group of 20 major global economies starting Nov. 12. Sarkozy says France will push for reform of the international monetary system and mechanisms to limit swings in commodity prices. He has so far divulged few specifics.
The United States says China's undervalued currency, the yuan, contributes to strains in the global economy because it gives Beijing an unfair trade boost by making Chinese goods cheaper in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Sarkozy's office says he does not plan to take a confrontational tone on the issue, preferring to consult global economies and then work together on currency issues and other economic imbalances. The issues are expected to be discussed at a summit of world leaders in Seoul, South Korea, in a week.
After the leaders' initial talks Thursday, France announced euro16 billion ($22.8 billion) in deals to sell uranium, technology and more than 100 Airbus planes to China, and the two countries also agreed to a sweeping strategic partnership on nuclear power.
The overall scale of the deals, however, appeared somewhat exaggerated. Airbus spokeswoman Anne Galabert said that 66 of the 102 plane orders were new, while the rest were previously announced.
Hu's visit comes as China is pressuring European governments to avoid the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and not make any statements in support of Liu, according to Western diplomats. France's Foreign Ministry would not comment Friday on whether France is attending the prize ceremony.
China's government has also been clamping down on Chinese activists, lawyers and NGO groups who have supported Liu, considered a criminal for advocating widespread political reforms.
The People's Daily, the Communist Party's flagship newspaper, stepped up its criticism of the award Friday, saying the Nobel is a Western political tool used to attack a rising China.
Hu departs Saturday for Portugal.
Ines Ward, Greg Keller and Cecile Brisson in Paris contributed to this report.