LYON - France rolled out the red carpet for China's leader Tuesday as he arrived for a nostalgia-tinged trip due to be dominated by the signing of scores of business deals.
President Xi Jinping and his glamorous wife Peng Liyuan touched down in the eastern city of Lyon, where authorities were on maximum alert, closing streets, forcing some residents to carry a proof of address to get home and mobilising hundreds of riot police.
The power couple will be given VIP treatment on their three-day visit to France, culminating in a concert at the Versailles palace, as the two countries celebrate 50 years of full diplomatic ties.
Ahead of his visit, Xi penned a column in French daily Le Figaro in which he paid tribute to French leader Charles de Gaulle's 1964 decision to break ranks with the United States and recognise communist China, paving the way for Beijing's global acceptance.
Speaking Tuesday during a dinner in Lyon's stately town hall after a main course of thyme and hay-flavoured lamb, he said his trip to France would "allow (him) to work with President Francois Hollande... to sum up 50 years of Sino-French relations and to plan the future together".
France is currently behind some of its European neighbours, most markedly Germany, in terms of trade and investment links with China.
It has recently been working hard to catch up and Xi's visit is expected to see a raft of deals struck.
"Investments are welcome in France and we are mobilised to facilitate them," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Xi at dinner.
Accords in the aviation, nuclear, space, agriculture and urban development sectors are expected to be unveiled on Wednesday.
Details of most of them have been closely guarded by both sides, with the only deal certain to be signed one which will see Chinese firm Dongfeng take a stake in stricken French auto giant Peugeot.
An agreement on the joint construction of civilian helicopters between Airbus Helicopters and China is also expected.
When Hollande visited China in April last year, Xi welcomed him with a pledge to buy 60 Airbus planes and there could be more to come.
Areva wants nuclear deals
Luc Oursel, head of French nuclear giant Areva, last week said he was hoping for the signature of several agreements, as negotiations continue on the construction in China of a nuclear waste reprocessing plant.
France's finance ministry is also organising an economic forum on Thursday that will gather together some 400 businesses.