Chirac calls for end to China arms embargo

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BEIJING -- French President Jacques Chirac on Saturday called for an end to a European Union arms embargo on China as companies from both nations signed contracts worth more than $1 billion during a high profile visit meant to strengthen commercial ties.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Chirac criticized the EU arms ban - imposed in 1989 after China crushed the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests - as lacking "justification or foundation."

"It's a measure motivated purely and simply by hostility toward China," Chirac said. He said France hoped to see the ban lifted "within several months."

Chirac and Chinese leaders also presided over the signing of a series of contracts, including a $1 billion deal for French engineering giant Alstom to supply China with trains.

Airbus signed a deal to supply 20 A330-300 aircraft to China Eastern Airlines for an undisclosed sum. Oil company Total signed a $120 million joint venture with state-owned Chinese petroleum firm Sinochem to open a network of 200 service stations.

The commercial windfall for French companies was smaller than some had hoped.

There were no deals announced for France to supply China's growing nuclear power industry or for Chinese carriers to buy the new Airbus A380 "superjumbo" jetliner.

Chirac prompted a flurry of criticism when he called the EU arms embargo outdated in an interview with China's official Xinhua News Agency before he left Paris.

But Chirac's appeal for the 25-nation EU to lift its arms embargo came as U.S. diplomats were lobbying for it to continue, arguing that lifting it would send the "wrong signal" on human rights. France