BEIJING, March 25 -- On his first European tour as Chinese President, Xi Jinping will visit France, 50 years after diplomatic relations were established between the two countries.
Xi will pay a state visit to France after visiting the Netherlands and attending the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague.
During the visit, Xi will have talks with French President Francois Hollande and together they will attend celebrations of the 50th anniversary of China-France diplomatic ties. He will also meet Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and parliamentary leaders.
France holds a unique place in China's diplomatic history as the first major Western power to establish official diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, after it was founded in 1949.
Briefing the press, Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao said the leaders will draw on the successful experiences of the past 50 years to plan for the future.
"The timing of Xi's visit makes it highly symbolic, instead of a routine diplomatic move," said Zhao Jinjun, president of the China Foreign Affairs University and a former ambassador to France.
The visit of President Xi shows how China values the legacy of Mao Zedong and Charles de Gaulle, who decided to establish ambassadorial diplomatic ties in 1964, Zhao said.
"Their legacy was that China and France joined in fighting hegemony and power politics," he said.
As permanent members of the United Nations Security Council facing a world of disturbances and conflicts, the visit shows China's commitment to sharing the responsibilities of maintaining peace and stability with France, Zhao said.
Five decades on, bilateral ties have evolved into a comprehensive strategic partnership. Trade between the two hit 50 billion U.S. dollars in 2013, compared with 100 million U.S. dollars in 1964. Fifty years ago, no more than 3,000 people traveled between China and France each year while today more than 5,000 people make the trip every day. About 38,000 Chinese students are studying in France, while more than 7,000 French students are studying in China.
Despite ups and downs, the relationship with France remains one of the most important for China and there is much mutual affection between them, Zhao said.
Politically, China and France both uphold multipolarity and independent foreign policies, while economically they supplement each other and have a good cooperative tradition in sectors like nuclear energy, civil aviation and railways. However, they are looking for new areas and breakthroughs in political and economic cooperation.
The visit could be a new start for the two countries, said Qu Xing, head of the China Institute of International Studies.
During Xi's visit, agreements on education, science and technology, energy, aviation, urbanization and agriculture, are due to be signed, to promote cooperation in research, investment, production and even exploring a third market.
With an investment treaty between China and the EU in the offing, there will be more investment opportunities for Chinese and French companies.X "Politically, China and France do not have any fundamental divergence," Qu said, listing four common interests in international affairs: anti-terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, international stability, and unobstructed international waterways.
The two countries have also begun cooperation in Africa, with France acting as a bridge between China and many African countries.
Within the EU, much can be achieved by France, an important EU member, and China, the second largest trade partner of the European Union.
"Fifty years ago, France led other Western countries to set up diplomatic ties with China, and now China expects it will play a leading role in promoting a positive China policy in the EU," said Qu.
China is carrying out a grand reform plan, which means great opportunities for countries that are willing to engage, Zhao said.