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Beijing-Berlin friendship on display at CeBIT fair

The world's largest tech exhibition is underway in Germany. This year's big highlight is the 600 different Chinese firms showcasing their products as the "IT map shifts to the east."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the world's largest technological trade fair, CeBit, on Sunday, beginning the latest installment of the three-decade old exhibition that last year brought over 200,000 to the western city of Hanover.

CeBit, which is a German acronym for Center for Office Automation, Information Technology and Telecommunication, once dazzled consumers with the latest gadgets. But now, overshadowed by big tech events in Las Vegas and Barcelona, it has shifted its focus to business users. Last year, over 90 percent of its visitors were IT professionals.

This year's exhibition has a special focus on China as a partner country.

"China has developed itself from the workbench to being a global provider of solutions for the digital world. And companies such as Huawei and ZTE are already quality leaders in networking equipment here in Europe, for example," CeBit head Oliver Frese told DW's Henrik Böhme in Hanover. "We can clearly see a shift on the IT map towards the east."

Merkel has visited China seven times in her decade as chancellor, and she will meet Vice Premier Ma Kai (above left) as more than 600 Chinese companies exhibit their tech marvels at the fair.

Jack Ma (above right), head of Chinese online commerce giant Alibaba

, delivered the keynote address.

Chinese companies such as Huawei, Xiaomi and Lenovo will help fill the more than 30,000 square feet (3,000 m) of exhibition space. The huge Chinese contingent at the fair "makes it the biggest and strongest partner country presentation we've ever seen at CeBit," said Frese at a press conference.

Tech sector not effected by slowdown

Despite

China's larger economic slowdown

, information and communications technology are booming in the world's biggest smartphone market, which also has the largest number of Internet users.

The choice of the Asian giant as a partner country has irked some, as China is known for its Internet surveillance and censorship known as the "Great Firewall of China." Amnesty International has announced plans to protest China's treatment of critics, including imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, during the fair.

While Merkel continues to speak out on human rights, she has been careful to avoid any major offense against Beijing after she caused a stir by receiving a visit from the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dali Lama in 2007.

"The German government must ask itself how it will contribute to improving the human rights situation in China," said Amnesty's Verena Harpe.

Messestand der Deutschen Telekom auf der CeBIT 2015

German telecommunications heavyweight Deutsche Telekom celebrated the 'economic wonder 4.0,' which refers to the forth industrial revolution after steam power, mass production, and the dawn of IT

Berlin and Beijing cozy up

Germany is the biggest European economic player in China by a long shot, and its exports there helped soften some of the blow from the financial crisis in Europe. Bilateral trade in 2014 topped 140 billion euros ($177 million).

Berlin and Beijing even participate in joint cabinet meetings once every two years, something China does with no other country and Germany only with a select few, including France, India and Israel. However, some analysts worry that such close ties could present a dilemma for EU member Germany in the future as Beijing grows more

assertive in Asia and on the world stage

and the relationship becomes as much about security as about economics.

"As tensions increase between China and its neighbors … you could have a situation where Germany undermines a coherent European approach on security issues in Asia," Hans Kundnani of the European Council on Foreign Relations explained to French news agency AFP.

es/sb (AFP, dpa)

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