GILLIAN WONGBEIJING (AP) ¿ Paris and Beijing were expected to sign a series of agreements Monday during the French prime minister's visit to boost trade with the Asian economic giant, an indication of improving relations a year after the French president angered China by meeting with the Dalai Lama. Prime Minister Francois Fillon and Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang attended a ceremony Monday at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing to unveil a nameplate of a joint venture for the construction of two nuclear reactors in a deal that was announced last year. "Nuclear cooperation is rooted in both our republics' aim to value technological innovation and energy independence," Fillon said. "These agreements also are a proof of the solid relations between China and France." Fillon, who is accompanied by a business delegation, will meet with President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and the head of China's national legislature, Wu Bangguo, during his three-day visit. The two sides will sign a series of pacts later Monday. The visit comes a year after China froze relations between the countries because French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing accuses of seeking Tibetan independence from Chinese rule. Sarkozy's meeting with him prompted China to cancel talks with the European Union and sparked a popular Chinese backlash against French products.
Sarkozy restored contact with Hu during international summits in the United States in April and September and bilateral visits of high-level officials have since increased. Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming visited France last month with a delegation of Chinese business leaders. In an interview with China's official Xinhua News Agency, Fillon said that France hoped to strengthen cooperation with China in nuclear power, aviation, environmental protection, medical services and other fields. The nuclear power joint venture to build two nuclear reactors in the city of Taishan, in southern Guangdong province, was announced in August last year by French energy provider EdF and state-run Chinese producer China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp. The new company, Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture Company Ltd., which EdF holds a 30 percent stake in, started construction of the main bodies of the plants in September, according to a company statement. The first reactor should start operating in December 2013, it said. France's state-owned nuclear giant Areva SA is to provide nuclear equipment for the plants under a multibillion dollar (euro) contract finalized in November 2007, while another French company, Alstom SA, is to provide the turbine equipment. "The project plays a very positive and important role in promoting the use of advanced nuclear technology between China and France and strengthening bilateral trade," said Li, the Chinese vice premier. French business leaders have worried the political scuffle over Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama would affect trade with China. Trade retaliation is one of the most potent weapons in China's arsenal as businesses all over the world compete for a piece of the Asian giant's mammoth economy. Ties with France were only righted after France in April pledged to reject Tibetan independence in "any form."