PAPE'ETE, French Polynesia (April 5, 2001 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---Chinese President Jiang Zemin and his French Polynesian counterpart Gaston Flosse discussed trade exchange prospects and a possible shipbuilding contract Wednesday during talks held in Tahiti.

The 74-year-old Jiang was on a 12-hour stopover in the French territory, ahead of a two-week South American tour starting with Chile.

The Tahiti stop was labeled strictly "private."

"But it looked pretty official," local media representatives commented.

"This visit is a great honor for French Polynesia. On an exceptional basis, President Jiang has accepted that I honor him with the Order of the Great Cross of Tahiti Nui. Usually, he refuses all foreign decorations," Flosse told the media after hosting a lunch at his residence.

Flosse, who is known for his lavish welcomes, also offered black pearl gifts for Jiang and his wife.

"I know he's a good friend of (French) President Chirac," Flosse said, adding that he and Jiang had talked about their respective links with the French Head of State, who is Godfather to one of Flosse's children.

But apart from the decorum and protocol, which involved a special 400-person police reinforcement group (from the VIP Swat team, brought in from metropolitan France) in the capital of Pape'ete and on the route between downtown and Faa'a International Airport, Flosse and Jiang touched on economic issues.

"We have talked about economic exchanges. I mentioned especially our black pearl and tourism industries. But more importantly, we talked about possibilities for French Polynesia to order a whole fleet of fishing vessels. This is about a hundred tuna fishing vessels. This is part of a plan of our government to set up a proper tuna fishing industry within the next five years."

"Why China? Because we have issued a request for tenders and it seems China is the country that would be in a position to provide good quality and cheap boats. On this subject, the President has invited me to visit China at a convenient time."

In the region, a shipyard in the Fiji Islands also has expressed interest in bidding for the lucrative project.

In the past few years, the trade level between French Polynesia and China has increased quite significantly and reached some 3.5 billion French Pacific Francs (about US$ 28 million) in imports from China during 2000.

French Polynesia, in 2000, only exported mother of pearl (7 million CFP) and pearls (11.6 million CFP).

On the Tahiti stopover, Jiang also met French High Commissioner Jean Aribaud (France's representative in the territory), as well as representatives of the long-established and affluent local Chinese community.

There was no comment about the current standoff with the United States on the stranded spy plane and crew.

But at the airport, protesters from the local League of Human Rights staged a small demonstration, displaying banners that said "Silence, Human Rights are being killed in China."

Nearby, in the airport terminal, three protesters brandished banners about Free Tibet.

The Chinese delegation consisted of an entourage of some 150 (including officials and media representatives) en route to South America.

The delegation left Tahiti Wednesday (Tahiti time) for the first leg of its South American tour, Chile.

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