BEIJING/PARIS (Reuters) - France on Friday issued an unprecedented invitation to China to a prestigious world economic summit, at the same time praising Beijing's role in trying to avert war in Iraq.
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing he would be welcome to join leaders of the world's traditional economic powers and Russia at a Group of Eight (G-8) summit in France in early June.
"The (French) president (Jacques Chirac) sincerely desires your presence at this major international rendezvous," he said in the presence of journalists.
"He told me to send you his best regards for the quality of the contacts you regularly had with each other during the Iraq crisis," Raffarin said.
China, where the Communist Party holds sway, has never taken part in a forum of the G-8, a body created by and for the large, established free-market democracies.
The invitation to the meeting in the Alpine spa town of Evian near the border with Switzerland is a deeply symbolic move in economic and diplomatic terms. French officials said Hu was happy to receive the invite and hoped to make it to the summit.
Russia was only recently admitted to the G8 club, which otherwise comprises the Group of Seven powers -- the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Japan, Italy and Canada.
Diplomats have until recently said Russia was included for political rather than economic reasons to the important forum created in the 1970s.
China's economic growth has been far stronger recently than in the traditional economic powerhouses of the world, and its export performance is a key concern for Japan and other major economic powers.
At a news conference in Beijing, Raffarin said: "France and its partners have decided that the Evian meeting would be one discussing development. Therefore we have expressed a wish that China be present given the theme of our discussions."
He also said China and France shared similar views on the need for the United Nations -- by-passed in the U.S.-led war -- to play a central role in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.
"We believe that it is necessary, that it's useful, to say the least, to discuss North-South relations with the full participation, with the participation of Africa, China and other countries," he added through an English-language translator.
It was unclear to what extent France's partners were aware of the plans. There was scant immediate reaction from many capitals. In Germany one official said: "It's news to me."
CHIRAC TALKS OF ECONOMIC GROWTH
In Paris, Chirac himself met trade union leaders on Friday to spell out his ambitions for a summit where the world will be watching the first face-to-face meeting between himself and President Bush (news - web sites) since the Iraq war.
Russia took France's side in opposing United Nations backing for war in Iraq and China too voiced support for Chirac's stand. Washington went ahead with Britain, and waged war without U.N. approval, and bad feeling still runs deep over Paris's "non."
In his meeting with union leaders, Chirac said he hoped the June 1-3 summit would issue a strong message on determination to promote economic growth, which is currently sluggish.
Debate over who should do more to ensure better growth rates at global level is a frequent bone of contention among the big economic powers, with Washington often urging Japan and Europe to play a more significant role alongside the United States.
In the text of a speech to union leaders that was released by his Elysee Palace office, Chirac called for a commitment to greater financial market solidity and said coordination and reform were required to enhance economic performance.
Corporate scandals such as the accounting scams behind the demise of the huge U.S. energy trading company Enron had hurt investor confidence and the job now was to restore confidence and better functioning of financial markets, Chirac said.
"After the various scandals we have seen, notably accounting and financial scandals, we need to reaffirm our confidence in a balanced economic system without excess," he said.
What is now the G8 began in 1975 when then French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing invited the leaders of the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain and Italy to an informal get-together at the Chateau de Rambouillet near Paris.
Canada joined soon afterwards and the club remained for years the Group of Seven. Russia was formally invited to join in 1997.
(additional reporting John Ruwitch in Beijing, Sophie Louet in Paris)
FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. NoNonsense English offers this material non-commercially for research and educational purposes. I believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner, i.e. the media service or newspaper which first published the article online and which is indicated at the top of the article unless otherwise specified.