Close observers of the aerospace industry believe that Airbus has high hopes of coming away from President Jacques Chirac's visit to Beijing next month with a deal to farm out part of the development work on the jet, the final cost of which has been estimated in the region of between $10bn (pounds 6.2bn) and $15bn.
The French President's visit is also expected to coincide with the signing of a $1.2bn deal involving the supply of aircraft to China's fast-growing civil airline industry.
It will be the largest deal of its kind between the European consortium and China, and it comes in the wake of the watershed deals to supply $300m-worth of A319s and A320s, signed last year, and the agreement to work jointly on the development of a 100-seater regional jet.
A spokeswoman for Airbus said the company "is in talks with various manufacturers around the world, including Asia, about participation in the development of the A3XX". She added that it was company policy not to comment on market rumours.
However, sources close to the company confirmed that China is top of the hit list for external partners in the A3XX project, which Airbus has said will require 40 per cent outside participation.
"We are not going to make any predictions but, inevitably, the subject will come up and we remain hopeful," said one source.