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China backs eurozone, pledges investment

China has assured Europe of its confidence in the eurozone at the start of a two-day visit to Beijing by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said China would "continue to invest in the EU."

At a joint press conference after talks, Wen said: "China has always had confidence in the eurozone, and we are happy to see greater use of the renminbi [China's currency] by European countries in trade and economic transactions."

"Strengthening practical cooperation between China and the EU is conducive to overcoming the eurozone debt problem," Wen said. Governments within the EU had the wisdom to solve the problem, he said, adding that Italy, Greece and Spain must step up their resolve to implement reforms.

His remarks match hopes often expressed in Europe that China would deploy its large foreign exchange reserves to invest in EU bailout funds for over-indebted eurozone nations, which also include Portugal, Greece and Ireland.

Merkel told reporters that "many reforms" were taking place and that there was an "absolute political will to turn the euro into a strong currency again."

Merkel is on her second visit to Beijing in just seven months, accompanied by a 100-member delegation, including business chiefs and seven of her cabinet ministers

China orders 50 Airbus planes

Shortly after her arrival, China's official news agency Xinhua said ICBC Leasing had signed a 2.8 billion euro order to purchase fifty A320 passenger planes from Airbus, the European constructor.

ICBC Leasing is part of China's state-run Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

The two governments said China had also signed an agreement to extend the life of an Airbus assembly plant in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, Wen's home city, which Merkel will visit on Friday.

Other Sino-German cooperation agreements signed span the car industry, communications, energy and health.

Westerwelle highlights Syria

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who is among the visiting cabinet members, said he would press China to use its influence in war-torn Syria on the government of President Bashar Assad

"We expect that China's readiness to send a clear message with us to the Assad regime will grow," he said.

Within the UN Security Council this year, China and Russia have used their vetoes to block draft resolutions on intervention sought by Arabic and Western nations.

Westerwelle said Germany would in October open its fifth general consulate in China in the city of Shenyang.

"The fact that we are holding government consultations for the second time and that half the cabinet flew half-way around the world reflects the exceptional breadth and depth of our relationship."

"For us, China is one of the formative powers of the twenty-first century," Westerwelle said after landing in Beijing.

ipj/rg (dpa, AFP, Reuters)