Paris, France -- The meeting in Toulouse between French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang, was dedicated to economic cooperation and steered well clear of freedom of information and other human rights issues, keeping reporters covering the event on a tight leash.

"The journalists were given no opportunity to get close to Valls and Li or ask them any questions," the Paris based media-watch-dog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a report after the meeting.

Two representatives of RSF were among those accredited to cover the summit, which included a visited to Airbus facilities on the outskirts of Toulouse. RSF said it deplores the shortsighted “pragmatism” displayed by the French and Chinese leaders and the failure of the summit’s organizers to allow reporters to do their job properly.

Li welcomed the signature of more than 50 contracts, including an agreement for the purchase of 40 Airbuses, and said he wanted to “create an open, fair and transparent environment in order to consolidate the growth of the Chinese economy.”

Voicing optimism about the fruits of the new and enhanced cooperation with China, Valls said: “When our two nations work together, the entire world can only do better as a result.”

“The statements made by both prime ministers were blatantly hypocritical,” Reporters Without Borders programme director Lucie Morillon said. “China has one of the world’s least transparent governments. It continues to jail all those who speak out about corruption and draw attention to the communist party’s totalitarian nature."

“As for the benefits that the world will supposedly derive from the signing of these contacts, we would have liked Valls to have expressed his view of the 100 or so journalists and bloggers currently jailed in China, but unfortunately this was not possible.”

The group of journalists accredited to cover yesterday’s events were clearly expected to do no more than provide publicity for the French government and for the French and Chinese companies participating in the contracts.

As there was no news conference and no opportunity to put questions to the two prime ministers, the journalists were unable to perform their reporting duties properly. “What’s the point of our being here if we cannot ask them questions,” one reporter commented.

Although they were taken to the Airbus site where the contracts were signed, cameramen were not allowed to film the signing. “Not even the official cameraman was able to film it properly because of the crush in front of the contract table,” a journalist said.

The reporters were even less happy. They were unable to do anything except use an Airbus press release and talk to the engineer in charge of the project in China.

“Controlling the media in this way and relegating them to the role of publicity agents for the government and private sector shows how the French government submits to the Chinese government’s demand without batting an eyelid,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.

“The French government has disengaged almost entirely from the issue of human rights in China. This is also the view the many NGOs who met in Paris on 30 June to denounce France’s abandonment of a real, frank and open dialogue on human rights in China. Signing contracts seems to be the only think that matters to the French authorities.”

Airbus has signed a contract with China Aviation Supplies Holding Company for the sale of 40 Airbus A330s and the promise of an additional 35 aircraft for a total for more than 16 billion euros. This lucrative contract has reinforced economic ties between the two countries following a Chinese consortium’s purchase of a 49.9 per cent share in Toulouse-Blagnac airport in April.

Meanwhile, China continues to be the world’s biggest prison for news providers. One of the latest victims is Gao Yu, winner of UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano prize in 1997, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in April.

The government is cracking down harder than ever on journalists and bloggers while reinforcing its censorship of the Chinese media, issuing very strict directives and clamping down on coverage of pro-democracy movements.

The Chinese government has also developed one of the world’s most sophisticated systems for monitoring and censoring the Internet, confirming its inclusion in the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet.”

China is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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