France rolled out the red carpet for China's leader Tuesday as he arrived for a nostalgia-tinged trip due to be dominated by the signing of scores of business deals.
President Xi Jinping and his glamorous wife Peng Liyuan touched down in the eastern city of Lyon, where authorities were on maximal alert, closing streets, forcing some residents to carry a proof of address to get home and mobilising hundreds of riot police.
The power couple will be given VIP treatment on their three-day visit to France with a state dinner in Paris and a concert at the Versailles palace, as the two countries celebrate 50 years of full diplomatic ties.
Ahead of his visit, Xi penned a column in French daily Le Figaro in which he paid tribute to French leader Charles de Gaulle's 1964 decision to break ranks with the United States and recognise communist China, paving the way for Beijing's global acceptance.
"It established for the international community an example of peaceful co-existence and win-win cooperation between two countries with different social systems," Xi wrote.
Xi said France was the first Western country to engage in civil nuclear energy cooperation with China, sign scientific and technical accords with Beijing and launch direct flights to the country.
Now though, France is behind some of its European neighbours, most markedly Germany, in terms of trade and investment links with China.
It has recently been working hard to catch up and Xi's visit is expected to see a raft of deals struck.
Accords in the aviation, nuclear, space, agriculture and urban development sectors are expected to be unveiled on Wednesday.
Details of most of them have been closely guarded by both sides with the only accord certain to be signed one which will see Chinese firm Dongfeng take a stake in stricken French auto giant Peugeot.
An agreement on the joint construction of civilian helicopters between Airbus Helicopters and China is also expected.
When French President Francois Hollande visited China in April last year, Xi welcomed him with a pledge to buy 60 Airbus planes and there could be more to come.
- Areva hopes for nuclear deals -
Luc Oursel, head of French nuclear giant Areva, last week said he was hoping for the signature of several agreements, as negotiations continue on the construction in China of a nuclear waste reprocessing plant.
France's finance ministry is also organising an economic forum on Thursday that will gather together some 400 businesses.
"Our economic and trade relationship with China is marked by a strong imbalance," the French foreign ministry said, pointing to a trade deficit of 25.8 billion euros ($35.7 billion) last year between the two countries.
At the end of 2012, France's total investments in China came to 16.7 billion euros, four times more than China's in France.
The trip is also due to touch on political matters, as the crisis in Ukraine continues to dominate the international agenda.
China earlier this month lodged a rare abstention on a Western-backed UN Security Council resolution condemning a Moscow-backed secession referendum in Crimea, rather than vetoing it along with ally Russia.
While the subject will be addressed with Hollande in private talks, Xi is unlikely to make any groundbreaking statements in public.
- Tibet protest planned -
The trip also carries a symbolic note with Xi scheduled to make a major speech in Paris highlighting historical bonds such as the experiences of Communist Party luminaries Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, who both studied in France.
Xi's wife Peng, a famous singer and China's first prominent First Lady, is also a keen lover of France.
And while she no longer has a French counterpart after Hollande split from his partner Valerie Trierweiler, Peng has her own itinerary planned that will see her named special UNESCO envoy for the promotion of women's education.
The couple chose to kick off their trip with a whistle-stop, 16-hour tour of Lyon, where they were welcomed by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
As a former silk centre, Lyon forged links with China from the 16th century that endured until now.
In 1900 for instance, Lyon was the first city in Europe where Chinese was taught, and even today many schools in the region teach Mandarin as a first or second language.
The question of human rights in China will also never be far from the trip, amid an ongoing, government-backed crackdown on dissent.
In Lyon on Tuesday, a few dozen activists gathered together to protest, but Tibetan exiles are planning a far larger rally in Paris on Thursday.
Since 2009, some 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in China in suicide protests against authorities as they denounce an erosion of their religious freedoms and culture and discrimination by the country's Han majority.