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Rights on Back Burner as China's Hu Visits France

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, and Chinese President Hu Jintao, right, listening to the French National anthem during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Wednesday, April, 28, 2010.

Officials say business deals worth billions of dollars will be on the table during Chinese President Hu Jintao's three-day state visit to France beginning Thursday.

But the prospects for a discussion of human rights or China's detention of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo are much less certain.

This is the first foreign trip for Mr. Hu since the prize was awarded to the jailed pro-democracy campaigner. Reports say the countries will sign billions of dollars in contracts, including the sale to China of Airbus aircraft and nuclear energy deals.

But human rights groups are frustrated that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has so far been silent on the case of Liu. French-Chinese relations have only recently mended after Mr. Sarkozy angered China in 2008 with remarks about Tibet.

The two leaders have not scheduled a joint press conference as is customary during a state visit. That has led to speculation they are seeking to avoid questions about the Nobel winner.

Mr. Sarkozy is also expected to seek Mr. Hu's support for a proposed package of reforms in the operations of the G20 -- the group of 20 leading economic powers. France is to assume the chairmanship of the group following a G20 summit next week in South Korea.

Mr. Hu will also visit Portugal during the European trip.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.