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Chirac mixes business and diplomacy on China visit

Written by: Staff
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BEIJING, Oct 25 (Reuters) French President Jacques Chiracled an elite business contingent to China today, hopingto seize a greater share of the world's fourth largest economyon a four-day state visit overshadowed by the Korean nuclear crisis.

Arriving on possibly the last major foreign trip of histerm, Chirac wants to capitalise on a decade of steadily warming ties with a final flourish of deals including sales of railway equipment and breakthroughs on banking and energy.

Official Chinese media hailed ties between the two nations, buoyed by Chirac's longstanding support for China, includinghis efforts to lift a ban on European Union arms exports to thecountry.

''The Chinese love Chirac. He is the only Western head of state who really took a gamble on China politically and economically,'' said a senior French diplomat ahead of the trip.

Although some 30 banking, energy and manufacturing chiefs have accompanied the president, French officials played down the prospect of a spectacular tally of deals amid fierce US competition for several big contracts.

In talks with President Hu Jintao, Chirac will stress the importance of international unity on United Nations moves to sanction Pyongyang for conducting a nuclear test to avoid sending a damaging signal to Iran over that country's nuclear ambitions, French diplomats said.

MEDIA CURBS North Korea's nuclear test on October nine drew UN sanctions backed by China, the reclusive state's long-time supporter.

China, however, has drawn back from calls from Washington to cut fuel and aid to North Korea and to try to cajole its leader Kim Jong-il back to disarmament talks.

Beijing fears excessive sanctions could risk North Korea's collapse, creating waves of refugees and disrupting the region's stability.

MORE REUTERS BDP BST1455

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