PARIS (Reuters) - Chinese President Hu Jintao and France's Nicolas Sarkozy voiced joint support on Thursday for reform of the global monetary system and pledged close cooperation as Paris prepares to take over the G20 presidency.
As Hu kicked off a two-nation European visit with a slew of French aircraft and nuclear fuel contracts, the two leaders agreed on a need to adopt coordinated macroeconomic policies, to fight volatility in commodities markets and to look at reforming institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.
"China supports France in its efforts to host a successful G20 summit next year and aims to keep close communication and coordination with France to prepare its success," Hu said in a speech before a formal dinner for the leaders and their wives.
Hu and Sarkozy said in a joint statement the Group of 20 economic leadership forum should recast economic growth and the international financial system on solid foundations.
In a toast before a banquet table adorned with red and gold decorations, Sarkozy said he wanted to "tightly associate" China with France's work as G20 president from mid-November.
"I will be able to count on China's backing to help push progress on three essential fields for the good of the world: reform of the international monetary system, the question of the volatility of commodity prices and the reform of global governance," he said.
Hu's three-day visit to France, after which he travels to Portugal, comes at a time when EU leaders have closed ranks with Washington in urging China to allow its yuan currency to appreciate more quickly, unsettling relations between Beijing and Brussels.
China hopes the trip will ease those strains ahead of a G20 leaders summit in South Korea next week which will focus on global economic imbalances.
Sarkozy's government, which takes up the G20 baton after the Seoul summit, wants to build common ground for its ambitious agenda of reforming the global monetary system, while avoiding alienating China by harping on about the yuan.
Paris has said its G20 agenda of diversifying global currency reserves away from the dollar and stabilizing commodity markets hinges on the support of the world's No. 2 economy.
For statement highlights, click on:
CONTRACTS, GIFTS, NO HUMAN RIGHTS
Sarkozy and his wife, former model Carla Bruni, received Hu with military honours at Paris's Orly airport. Hu's cavalcade, escorted by a formation of motorcycle escorts and the Republican guard on horseback, then swept down the historic Champs Elysees en route to the exclusive George V hotel.
"China should not be seen as a risk but an opportunity," Sarkozy said ahead of Hu's arrival. "It's not by reproaching people for things that you make progress."
Hu oversaw the signing of $20 billion worth of corporate investment contracts and pledged to double China's annual trade with France to $80 billion over the next five years, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Fu Ying told reporters.
French officials billed it as the biggest contract signing ceremony by China with a European leader, even though 36 of the Airbus planes were repeats of old orders.
The trip caps a rehabilitation of Sino-French ties since Sarkozy outraged Beijing in 2008 by meeting the exiled Dalai Lama, prompting some Chinese citizens to boycott French goods.
France, one of the first Western nations to open ties with Communist China in 1964, has carefully avoided antagonizing Beijing ahead of the visit, scarcely reacting to last month's award of the Nobel Peace Prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo.
"We have the feeling the objective of this visit is to sell Airbus planes and nuclear reactors to China, which is good, but it is a detriment to human rights," said Jean-Francois Julliard, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, one of several groups that protested in Paris against Hu's arrival.
French telecom gear maker Alcatel-Lucent announced 1.2 billion euros in deals with Chinese phone companies and insurer Axa also sealed deals.
Sarkozy gave Hu six bottles of the finest Bordeaux grand cru as a gift, and gave the Chinese first lady a baccarat crystal containing perfume.
On Friday, Hu will travel to the Mediterranean resort of Nice, where afternoon talks are expected to center on foreign affairs, including Iran's nuclear ambitious, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the development of Africa, where resource-hungry Chinese companies are investing heavily.
On Saturday, Hu flies to Portugal where President Anibal Cavaco Silva, struggling to rein in his country's debt, will hope for a repeat of a Chinese performance in Greece that boosted that economy with promises of investment and debt purchases.