Similar calls have been coming from the US, where politicians in congress have been threatening punitive action against Chinese exporters unless Beijing changes its yuan policy.
 

"We need to arrive at currency rates that are harmonious and fair," Sarkozy said after talks on Monday with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao.

 

Hu himself made no public comment on the currency issue.

 

Economic relations are topping the agenda for the French leader's first visit to China since becoming president.

 

But the French president has also warned Beijing not to ignore the environmental costs of its rapid economic development.

 

In an address shortly after arriving in the Chinese capital on Sunday evening he said that China's growth "must not and cannot happen at the expense of the world environment.''

 

"If not, what would be the good of developing?" he said.

 

Nuclear deal

 

Sarkozy is the latest in a line of world leaders
eager to tap China's booming economy [AFP]
Sarkozy is accompanied on his visit by a large delegation of business leaders underscoring the focus of the visit on boosting economic ties.

 

Following Monday's talks between Hu and Sarzoy, French state-owned nuclear energy group, Areva, said it had signed an $11.6bn deal with China for two pressurised water nuclear reactors.

 

The deal, signed at a ceremony attended by the two presidents, also includes more than decade of fuel to power the reactors.

 

"It's a record. In the history of the civilian nuclear industry, there's never been a deal of this magnitude," Areva chief executive Anne Lauvergeon told reporters after the signing ceremony.

 

In a separate announcement, Toulouse-based aircraft manufacturer Airbus said it had signed contracts to sell 160 passenger jets to China in a deal worth about $14.8bn.

 

In addition, China agreed to take a 5 per cent risk-sharing stake in the development of the A350.

 

The $10 billion airliner project is Airbus's attempt to catch up with Boeing's next generation 787 jet in the fast-growing mid-sized aircraft market.

 

Airbus has been eager to secure a slice of China's rapidly growing aviation market in its global battle with US rival Boeing.

 

Both companies have said they expect China to become the world's second-biggest aircraft market after the United States, with airlines buying up to 2,600 new aircraft over the next two decades.