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Merkel's China Visit to Strengthen Bilateral Ties
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At the invitation of Premier Wen Jiabao, German Chancellor Angela Merkel began a three-day official visit to China yesterday.


It is Merkel's first trip to China since she was sworn into office in November last year as her country's first female chancellor.


Leaders of the two countries are due to exchange viewpoints on the further development of the China-Germany relationship, as well as on a wide range of major international and regional issues of common concern including UN reform, the Iran nuclear stalemate, the EU arms embargo against China, and intellectual property rights (IPR) protection.


The two nations are also expected to reach agreements and sign contracts on cooperation projects during Merkel's visit to China.


The China visit will also bring the German Chancellor to Shanghai this evening, where she will attend the fourth meeting of the China-Germany High-Tech Dialogue Forum.


"The real landscape of China's economic and social developments that Merkel is seeing during the visit will help make clear her government's foreign policy toward China," said Lian Yuru, a professor at the School of International Studies in Peking University.


The face-to-face meetings and talks with Chinese leaders, which will help enhance understanding and mutual trust between the two sides, will help lay the foundation for all-round cooperation between China and Germany, according to Lian.


"Merkel's visit also continues the frequent high-level exchanges between the two countries in recent years and is a result of deepened bilateral ties," said Su Hao, a professor at the Foreign Affairs College.


Bilateral ties have steadily developed since the two nations set up diplomatic relations in 1972.


The two countries have maintained frequent high-level exchanges since the first visit to China by then Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Helmut Schmidt in 1975.


Despite the leadership changes experienced by the two countries in the past decades, China and Germany have never stopped their high-level exchange visits or the pursuit of cooperative policies.


Meanwhile, close cooperation has also been built between their congresses and government departments.


The two nations have also set up a regular mechanism for mutual visits between their foreign ministers and for political consultations at various levels.


The regular channel for high-level exchanges and meetings has enhanced mutual trust between the two countries.


As two influential powers in Asia and Europe, China and Germany have consistently attached great importance to developing ties with one another.


"The steady development of political ties between the two nations should be attributed to the common and similar ground both countries share on a series of important international and regional issues," Su said. "There is no major political controversy between them."


Both advocate democratization of international relations and insist international disputes be resolved in a peaceful manner.


China extended its firm support to Germany's efforts for national reunification, and Germany has also firmly abided by the one-China policy and refrained from arms sales to Taiwan.


The two countries also insist that differences on the human rights issue should be settled through dialogue instead of confrontation.


Given their ever-growing influence in Asia and Europe, China and Germany have no reason not to value bilateral ties.


"Despite differing perceptions on some issues because of their different social systems, ideologies and values, the two nations are well aware that these differences should not get in the way of a smooth relationship," said Su.


"It is expected that during her visit to China, Merkel, out of some domestic pressures, will raise the IPR and human rights issues to Chinese leaders, but she may possibly speak in a moderate manner," Lian Yuru said.


Prior to her China tour, German industry groups urged Merkel to press the Chinese government to crack down more aggressively on piracy.


"However, it is important that the two countries clearly acknowledge the other's importance on their respective continents," Su said.


This perception and shared ground will help the two nations shelve differences and coordinate a mutual stance to seek cooperation on a series of major issues.


A smooth political relationship has always been an important factor in driving forward bilateral economic and trade ties.


Since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1972, the two countries have made substantial economic achievements.


The bilateral trade volume in 2005 reached US$63.2 billion, accounting for nearly one-third of the trade volume between China and the EU bloc.


Germany is by far China's largest EU trading partner. And China has been Germany's biggest Asian trading partner since 2002.


For a long time, Germany has been China's most important target for technological cooperation in Europe. Also, the country has long been one of the world's major development aid providers to China.


In addition to their prospering cooperation in the political and economic realms, China and Germany have also had exchanges and fruitful cooperation in the fields of culture, education, high technology, environment, sport and military.


Bilateral cooperation in developing magnetically levitated trains, for example, is a new development for the China-Germany relationship. The two nations have together made breakthroughs in the Shanghai magnetically levitated train project.


Due to her previous political stances, some analysts had misgivings about the China policy of Merkel's government following her electoral success. People worried about whether or not the new government would alienate itself from China.


Merkel dispelled these misgivings, however, by remarking at a press conference following her election that she would maintain the continuity of her predecessors' foreign policy toward China during her term in office, and promote her country's relations with China.


And President Hu Jintao's state visit to Germany last November, which further consolidated the bilateral strategic partnership, once again lifted confidence in the smooth future of Sino-German relations.


Merkel's visit will further enhance mutual trust and consolidate existing common ground between the two countries.


(China Daily May 22, 2006)


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