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France's Sarkozy in China for talks with Hu
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Aug 25, 2011

French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Beijing Thursday for talks with his Chinese counterpart that are expected to be dominated by the eurozone debt crisis and reconstruction in Libya.

Sarkozy's brief stopover, on his way to the French territory of New Caledonia, will mark his sixth visit to China -- a fellow UN Security Council permanent member and the world's second-largest economy.

The French president will spend just five hours in Beijing, where he is due to meet with Hu Jintao at 5:15 pm (0915 GMT) in the Great Hall of the People, before sharing a working dinner with the Chinese president.

He flew into China hours after meeting the prime minister of Libya's rebel National Transitional Council, Mahmud Jibril, as fighters in the capital Tripoli sought to deliver a knockout blow to Moamer Kadhafi's 42-year regime.

Sarkozy's office said the president wanted to discuss the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and French leadership of the Group of 20 nations ahead of a Cannes summit in November.

The French president is facing an uphill struggle to win re-election next year in the face of a stuttering economy. In July, polls showed his approval rating flatlining at 34 percent.

Chinese leaders have repeatedly expressed their confidence in the eurozone economies during the crisis, and the country has invested an increasing portion of its world-leading foreign exchange reserves in euro-denominated assets.

"Sarkozy is coming here to ask China to buy the government debt of southern European countries," said Jin Cangrong of China's People's University.

"China is buying European debt all the time, it now holds 600 billion euros ($865 billion) worth of European debt."

Europe's sovereign debt crisis has sent stock markets plunging and triggered critical coverage in China's state-run media, which this week compared it to the plague that hit the continent in the 14th century.

"The sovereign debt crisis, like the Black Death in the 14th century, has spread around eurozone countries, from Greece to Ireland, Portugal, Spain," said a comment piece in the overseas edition of the People's Daily on Monday.

The newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, called for "concrete actions to restore market confidence in eurozone nations and the euro."

The People's University's Jin said that Libya would also be high on the agenda for Sarkozy's visit.

"Sarkozy will try to persuade China to take part in the rebuilding of Libya," he said.

Beijing opposed NATO airstrikes in Libya and initially maintained a policy of non-interference and public neutrality on the conflict in Libya.

But it then shifted its position and started making contact with the rebels. After opposition forces in the war-torn North African country entered the capital Tripoli, Beijing said it "respects the Libyan people's choice".

It has urged the United Nations -- and not the Western powers that backed the opposition movement -- to lead the reconstruction effort in the oil-rich North African country, a position that France also adheres to.

On Thursday, the official China Daily newspaper said China should "keep close contact with all parties in Libya" as the conflict appeared to enter its final stage.

"It seems inevitable that chaos and conflict will emerge as different factions of the opposition forces struggle for political leadership," the paper said.

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