BEIJING - Visiting French Prime Minister Manuel Valls shied away at the last moment from calling China and France faithful "allies" on Friday.
The description was included in the advance text of a speech to businessmen distributed to the press.
"Yes, France and China are two great nations," it read. "Two partners pledged to work side by side. Two allies faithful to each other." But in the event Valls engaged in some last-minute editing while delivering the address, on the second day of a trip seeking greater Chinese investment and business for his country.
"Yes, France and China are two great nations, which like to talk of their history, of their culture... of their stubborn attachment to independence," he said instead.
Beijing sees a steady stream of Western diplomatic visitors keen to express positive sentiments about their relationships - despite concerns about human rights - in the hope of securing a slice of the Chinese economic cake, the second-largest in the world.
Nonetheless few have ever gone as far as Valls' original text, and the phrase raised eyebrows among analysts.
"It's very strong terminology," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a China expert at Hong Kong Baptist University. "As far as I'm aware China is not a member of NATO." France and China are both veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council, where Beijing regularly partners with Moscow to block Western-backed resolutions.