German Chancellor Angela Merkel has arrived in China for her seventh visit since 2005, with economic ties topping the agenda and a high-powered business delegation in tow.

Merkel touched down early on Sunday in the southwestern city of Chengdu, where she met local officials, visited a market and toured a factory operated by German car manufacturer Volkswagen.

She then travelled to Beijing, where she wrapped up the first day of the three-day visit with a meeting with Premier Li Keqiang and a banquet at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.

Merkel's visit comes just over three months after Chinese President Xi Jinping's trip to Germany, when both parties signed a raft of economic pacts.

China is Germany's second largest export market outside Europe, after the US.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday that both Merkel and Li promoted the benefits of cooperation between the two countries.

Al Jazeera's Adrian Brown, reporting from Beijing, said Merkel's visit demonstrates how important Germany regards its relationship with China.

"The value of trade between China and Germany at the moment is $200-bn, an astonishing figure," our correspondent said. "It's a sort of relationship that the rest of Europe must regard with envy."       

'Economic heavyweights'

Chinese companies want Germany's technology while millions of newly prosperous citizens crave the country's products, ranging from Audi sedans to luxury home appliances.

Germany last year sold goods worth $91bn to China, its number-two export market outside Europe after the United States.

Imports from the Asian powerhouse, meanwhile, topped $99bn.

Merkel angered Beijing in 2007 by meeting Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, whom ruling Communist Party leaders consider a dangerous separatist.

But during the latest visit, any discussion of human rights is likely to take place behind closed doors, an approach that German officials have argued can be more effective in China than finger-wagging reprimands.

In a commentary, Xinhua on Sunday hailed Merkel's trip.

"It is fair to say that China-Germany relations are at their best in history, which have been strongly underpinned by the pragmatic cooperation between the two economic heavyweights," it said.

Meanwhile, the visit was partly overshadowed by allegations from that small and mediums-sized German companies are victims of "industrial espionage" by the Chinese.

Al Jazeera's Adrian Brown said it is unclear whether the issue will be addressed by Merkel and the Chinese leaders.

Source: Agencies