Germany and China eye big trade increase

Merkel urges "transparent handling" of dissident's case at meeting where Wen pledges support for euro zone.

    Germany and China want to increase their annual bilateral trade volume to $284 bn by 2015  [AFP]

    German and Chinese leaders have pledged a big increase in trade between the two largest economies in Europe and Asia.

    At a meeting in Berlin on Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, underlined his support for the euro zone amid its debt crisis.

    Although the meeting in the German capital was dominated by economic issues, Merkel pressed Wen for "transparent" handling of the case of the recently released Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei.

    Merkel welcomed Wen and a number of Chinese ministers to Berlin - a reception that she said opened a "new chapter" in relations - and underlined Germany's hopes of deepening political and economic ties with the fast-rising Asian power.

    Wen voiced hopes that the countries could even double their trade volume over five years.

    Trade between China and Germany totalled just over $186.6 bn last year - a 38.5 per cent increase compared with 2009.

    Compatible economic goals

    Al Jazeera's Nick Spicer, reporting from Berlin, said that China's support for the euro is far from altruistic, as the country has "a lot of euro-denominated debt" and that saving the currency is in China's own best interest.

    "When Wen Jiabao said today, what was really significant was that his country was willing to lend a helping hand, that he had confidence in the future of the euro zone, in the currency itself," he said.

    "Wen dodged a question about whether he would buying German - or safe bonds, if you will - versus Greek bonds, simply saying that China would be buying bonds at an unspecified date in the future."

    China was the seventh greatest buyer of German exports, at $76.9bn, while it led the list of importers to Germany, which bought Chinese goods and services worth $109.8bn.

    China was prepared to buy more high-quality German goods, Wen said, but he also called for Berlin to quickly grant Beijing formal recognition as a full market economy to help remove obstacles to trade.

    Wen also urged Germany to seek a loosening of EU restrictions on technology exports.

    No contradiction

    German officials said there was no contradiction between pursuing trade interests in China and also raising concerns about the country's human-rights record.

    Merkel said after Tuesday's meeting with Wen that while the release of government critics was welcome, it was important that there now be "transparent proceedings" for Ai Weiwei and others.

    The Chinese government says it had arrested the artist-activist on charges of tax evasion in April. He was freed on Wednesday.

    Ai Weiwei's detention for nearly three months drew widespread criticism in Germany. He was the most prominent target of a sweeping crackdown on dissidents this year.

    Wen signed $2.4bn in trade deals in the UK when he met David Cameron, the British prime minister, on Monday. A small protest in London called for putting "human rights before trade".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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