In a recent interview, Mr. Bruno Bisson, Consul General of the French Consulate General in Guangzhou, shared his views on the numerous connections between France and southern China, and his thoughts on life here in Guangzhou.
In 1698, a frigate named L'Amphitrite sailed to Guangzhou from La Rochelle, a seaport in western France.
For Mr. Bruno Bisson, the ship's voyage is a crucial chapter in the story of the relationship between France and China.
"This ship now only lies in history books," says the head of the French Consulate General in Guangzhou, but "it tells us the history of our country's relations with China, especially with Guangzhou, because Guangzhou was the first gate to the open world."
Back then, L'Amphitrite shipped tea and silk to France, demonstrating that Guangzhou was the first Chinese city open to France for trade. Today, the two sides have developed closer economic and trade relationships, for example, in the area of nuclear power.
"Nuclear energy is one of the most important relations we have," the Consul General explains, "not exactly with Guangzhou, I would say with Guangdong or even with China, because these matters are of great interest for our government."
In December 2009, the Chinese and French governments signed a series of agreements on cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, one of which involved opening a school in the coastal city of Zhuhai. Named the French-Chinese Institute for Nuclear Energy, it was unveiled in September 2011 and will cultivate China's future engineers and other nuclear specialists.
China and France's cooperation over nuclear energy traces back to the 1980s, when the Daya Bay nuclear plant was built in Shenzhen. It was followed by another plant in Ling'ao, on the west coast of Daya Bay, and a third generation Sino-French nuclear plant is now being constructed in Guangdong's Taishan City.
As China builds more nuclear plants, the need for manpower in this field is becoming more pressing. The clean safety record of French nuclear plants convinced the Chinese government to have around 100 prospective nuclear engineers from China trained in the French approach each year.
Besides nuclear energy, auto manufacturing is another major area in which the two countries have joined forces. Last year, France's PSA Peugeot Citron and China's Chang'an Automobile decided to work together under a joint venture named Capsa. Located in Shenzhen, the venture will manufacture the DS5, which is the biggest and most luxurious car designed by Citron.
"The idea is to find some room in the Chinese market to sell top-grade French cars. I think this is a very good project," says Mr. Bisson.
The closer ties between the two sides can also be seen in the increasing number of French visitors to Guangdong.
"The number of French people [coming to Guangdong] has increased 20 percent, which is quite important," says the CG, who recalls when there were only 300 French people living in the province in 2003. The number has now jumped to 2,600, 2,000 of whom are living in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. "The increase mainly came from two sectors, nuclear energy and car making," adds Mr. Bisson.
Political relations between Guangdong and France have also played a crucial part in ties between the two parties.
"I was delighted when French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé came and visited Guangzhou last September," says the Consul General, of a trip which saw Mr. Juppé meet Secretary Wang Yang. "Since this visit, we had our Minister of Industry, Energy and Digital Economy come in February. In March, another minister came, the French Minister of Transport. We had a very interesting visit to Yantian Harbor in Shenzhen.
"Three ministers have come to Guangdong [this] year. The main target is economics, but as a minister is a member of the government, it gives the signal of the importance the French government attaches to South China. We have to understand that."
One area in which Mr. Bisson believes Chinese and French cooperation can be of crucial importance concerns the global financial crisis.
"We encourage Chinese investors to go to France. We have a very important agency that takes care of investment. It's called AFII [French Agency for International Investment]. Presently, the head of this agency for All-China is the previous trade commissioner in Guangzhou. He has some knowledge about Guangzhou, Guangdong and South China. Please, go and invest in France. There are not a lot of solutions. This is in my mind the main one."
Although Mr. Bisson only took up his post in Guangzhou last September, the CG is impressed by the dramatic change he has witnessed in the city over the past decade.
"I came to Guangzhou for the first time in November 1999, more than 12 years ago," he explains. "The airport had the same name, but it was smaller and less modern. Huge changes and developments have happened in 12 years. I did not recognize the city when I arrived last year... I'm really impressed by all that has been done by the government. I'm almost happy with the traffic condition. Nowadays there are more cars than 12 years ago but there are also more avenues and elevated roads without traffic lights, which are quite convenient.
"I also noticed that the authorities have made better environment a priority. There's still a lot of work to do of course, but it's really nice to drive or to walk in avenues where you have so many trees and plants. This is something that makes you feel much better than if there were none. This is a really good point. Plants transform carbon dioxide into oxygen, that's a blessing for everybody. Fight against pollution. It's a small addition, but it's good. Without any green, that's not livable."
In addition to the city's green spaces, Mr. Bisson also enjoys the night view along the Pearl River.
"I like very much Guangzhou at night, especially along the river. I live close to the river. Every night, my eyes are full of lights, whether in summer or in winter. The grayish town changes into a colorful town," he says.
France is of course famous around the world for its cuisine, but for CG Bisson the food in southern China is something else which makes living here a pleasure.
"French and Chinese cuisines are the two best cuisines in the world," he says. "Here in Guangdong, I especially like steamed dim sum. You have very good greens and fruits here. I'm a big fan of mangos, lychee. I found your dragon fruit are not bad. I don't miss anything."
(Written by Joyly Chan and contributed by Chen Ting, Wang He)
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