Premier Li's Germany tour to enhance bilateral partnership

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is slated to start an official visit to Germany late Saturday, the last leg of his first overseas trip since taking office in March.

Li will meet with German President Joachim Gauck and hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel on further cementing China's relationship with Germany and Europe at large.

The premier will also deliver a speech at a business luncheon and have extensive contact with people from Germany's political and business communities.

Li and Merkel will officially launch "the year of languages" between China and Germany. The initiative is meant to promote the study of each other country's language.

Officials and scholars say that Li's visit will enhance the bilateral strategic partnership between Beijing and Berlin and help boost the cooperation between China and Europe as a whole.


"It is an objective fact that the China-Germany relationship has been in the vanguard of the ties between China and Europe in many aspects," Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao said at a recent news briefing on Li's visit.

Some two months ago, Li and Merkel held a telephone conversation during which the chancellor congratulated -- as the first foreign leader -- Li on his taking over the premiership. The two leaders agreed during their talk to work on closer ties and cooperation.

Merkel said China's development is essential to both Germany and the world, and Germany highly values its relationship with China.

Germany, as China's friend and partner, hopes to maintain high-level contact with China, expand pragmatic cooperation and facilitate common development, Merkel said.

The political dialogue between Germany and China has reached "an unprecedented level" through such mechanisms as intergovernmental consultations, Michael Schaeffer, the German ambassador to Beijing, recently told Xinhua.

The intergovernmental consultations, launched two years ago, cover a wide range of issues of common concern. The effort made Germany the first European Union (EU) nation to establish a top-level consultation mechanism with China.

Merkel went to Beijing in August 2012 and co-chaired the second round of the Chinese-German intergovernmental consultations with then Premier Wen Jiabao. Eight ministers and five vice ministers from China, and seven ministers and two state secretaries from Germany attended the consultations.

The trip was Merkel's sixth to China since she took office in 2005. Li also met with the chancellor in Beijing.

"Both Chinese and Germany statesmen attach great importance to the bilateral relationship with a strategic vision, which is a precondition for the smooth development of the China-Germany ties," said Feng Zhongping, vice president of the Chinese Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

"High-level visits can play an irreplaceable role in boosting practical cooperation in various fields between the two countries," Song said, adding that Li's visit to Germany will help build sound working and personal relationships.


"Economic cooperation is a cornerstone of the bilateral relationship between China and Germany," Feng said.

China is Germany's largest trade partner in the Asia-Pacific region while Germany is China's largest trade partner in Europe. Bilateral trade reached 161.13 billion U.S. dollars in 2012, accounting for 29.5 percent of China-EU trade.

The rapid growth of bilateral trade during the past 20 years and the increasingly closer economic ties between Germany and China has lifted their economic interdependence to an unprecedented level.

That's according to a study published by the Bertelsmann Foundation, a German think tank.

"The Germany-made machinery products play a key role in China's industry, while China is the most important supplier of consumer goods to Germany," said Helmut Hauschild, director of the foundation's Germany and Asia Program.

"This high level of interdependence gives a strong impetus to the governments of both countries to make even greater efforts to forge closer cooperation to create the market's openness and equal condition of competition for both German and Chinese firms," Hauschild said.

The foundation expected that by the year 2020, Chinese investment in Germany would be tripled from its 2012 level to 2.1 billion dollars.

The rapid growth of Chinese investment has helped protect vulnerable jobs in insolvent companies and created new opportunities in Germany, the foundation noted.

Germany and China during Li's visit will sign a series of documents regarding cooperation in manufacturing, investment, finance and urbanization.

"The bilateral cooperation is robust in various areas," Song said, adding that it is the consensus of the two countries' leaders to expand practical cooperation and advance the strategic partnership.


"Germany is the biggest economy in the EU and has been playing a key role in countering the European debt crisis," Feng said, noting that the inclusion of Germany and Switzerland in Li's first overseas trip shows the great importance China has attached to its ties with Europe.

Li's visit and French President Francois Hollande's trip to China in April are important interactions that will help forge closer relations between China and Europe, Feng said.

Analysts believe that China and the EU are partners rather than rivals, and they can achieve win-win reciprocity through coordination and cooperation.

On one hand, China needs advanced technology and management expertise from developed European countries to satisfy its needs for realizing industrialization, informationization, urbanization and agriculture modernization.

On the other hand, it is a good way for the debt-ridden European countries to explore overseas markets to cast off their sluggish growth. In return, recovery of the European economy will offer China a sound external environment.

Given Germany's role in the EU, it is believed that Li's visit will help enhance mutual understanding and strengthen economic cooperation between China and Europe.

Ambassador Schaeffer said that China and Germany, both as major exporters, have common interests in securing free trade in the global market, fighting protectionism, and trying to develop fair trade rules.

Germany is ready to work with China to advance the relationship between the EU and China, Schaeffer said.

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