China's Xi kicks off French trip with wine and cheese

Lyon - Chinese leader Xi Jinping kicked off his trip to France Tuesday with a selection of Beaujolais wine, saucisson and cheese shortly after arriving in Lyon, the country's gastronomic capital.

Xi headed to Lyon's stately town hall soon after landing Tuesday evening for a lavish three-course meal accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan, a famous singer who wore a black and grey traditional Chinese dress and a black shawl wrapped around her shoulders.

The couple are in France for a three-day visit marking 50 years of full diplomatic ties between the two countries that is due to be dominated by the signing of several big business contracts.

They chose to kick off the visit with a whistle-stop, 16-hour tour of Lyon, a former silk centre that forged links with China from the 16th century that have endured until now.

Before sitting down for dinner in the town hall, Xi and his wife were treated to some of the region's most famous delicacies by local producers.

Cheese, saucisson, Beaujolais wine, fine chocolate - Xi went from stall to stall, sampling the delicacies.

"Try some", he told his wife, after taking a bite of Beaufort, an Alpine cheese.

"No I'm OK, I won't taste any," she responded, smiling.

Next up: a three-course meal at a gala dinner attended by many dignitaries from Lyon and other parts of France.

Sea bass with lobster sauce, thyme and hay-flavoured lamb followed by caramelised brioche with berries were on the menu.

On Wednesday morning, the Chinese leader is due to visit a laboratory just outside Lyon belonging to biotechnology firm bioMerieux, which has a strong presence in China.

Just before leaving for Paris, the Chinese president will also visit the Franco-Chinese Institute - which when it opened in Lyon in 1921 became the first Chinese university abroad and trained many promising students who went on to become top officials in their country.