France and China are a lot closer — economically, politically and scientifically — following the French president Jacques Chirac's visit to China earlier this month.

Travelling through the country with a 50-strong French trade delegation, Chirac helped to secure billions of dollars' worth of industrial contracts for France at the same time as signing framework agreements for the promotion of research into environmental protection, the development and peaceful use of atomic energy, health and medical science, nuclear fusion, and the exploration of space.

How such plans will be implemented is not clear, but Chirac's reported desire to “deepen our global partnership with China” is definite.

The new Institut Pasteur of Shanghai, a collaboration between the Paris-based Institut Pasteur and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is one of the cornerstones of this partnership. On 11 October, Chirac attended the institute's inauguration with Vincent Deubel, its recently appointed director. Deubel, who is French, is the first foreigner to head a scientific research institute on the Chinese mainland.

The institute, which is expected to open sometime this year, will focus on research into diseases that have devastated parts of China, including AIDS and hepatitis C. It is expected eventually to support 500 scientists, and to be at the centre of China's attempts to deal with its expanding problems with infectious diseases. It should bring top technology and equipment to the country, along with expertise in working in biosafety labs. “Courses on biosafety will be our first duty,” says Deubel.

Other partnerships may face a more difficult political future. During Chirac's trip, France and China agreed in principle to work together on space research. This may place France at odds with the United States, which has long blocked Chinese participation in the International Space Station.

During his visit to Shanghai, Chirac told students at Tongji University that France would increase support for Chinese students, saying that the current 8,000 students who come to France from China each year are “too few”. This move comes at a time when many Chinese students are prevented from going to the United States by its strict immigration policies.