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Germany

German Foreign Minister Heads to Asia

Joschka Fischer is gearing up for a 10-day tour of Asia. Meeting with leaders from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China and Pakistan, the German minister intends to discuss questions of security and reform of the UN.

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First stop: India

For the next week and a half Germany's foreign minister will put aside the controversial issues he's been facing in Europe, namely the question of the EU Constitution and support for rebuilding Iraq. While on a tour of several Asian countries, Fischer will make every effort to give his state visit a positive spin and bolster German ties with the region.

The foreign minister's spokesperson, Walter Lindner, told reporters that Fischer will focus on regional stability in South and East Asia, and cooperation between international organizations as well as gaining support for proposed reforms of the United Nations.

Garnering support for Germany's bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council is on top of Fischer's agenda. Right now there are five members with veto rights, reflecting a power dynamic that was set in place after World War II: China, France, Great Britain, Russia and the United States. Proposals are already on the table for revamping the council's composition, and Germany is spearheading the initiative, which could also include a permanent seat for Japan and India.

First stop: New Delhi

The first station on Fischer's 10-day trip is the Indian capital and he will stop there again towards the end of the trip, according to German foreign ministry officials. Recent tensions between India and neighboring Pakistan (Fischer's last stop) have died down somewhat, but the issue of regional stability still figures high on the German minister's list of topics. Both countries are nuclear powers and Fischer is intent on discussing ways to help the two rivals diffuse the conflict over the Kashmir border region. Former German president Johannes Rau visited India in March last year, helping to boost bilateral ties immensely.

Between India and Pakistan, Fischer will squeeze in visits to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Fischer is primarily interested in helping reinvigorate stalled peace talks between the Sri Lanka government and Tamil rebels. In Bangladesh he will be the first high-ranking German official to visit the country in almost 20 years. An entourage of fifteen businessmen will accompany the foreign minister and talks will center on improving trade relations in the impoverished region.

The green minister

Fischer will also stop in Beijing. He has already met the Chinese foreign minister on several occasions. As trade has been booming between the two countries, with German companies investing heavily in China, Fischer is likely to avoid sensitive issues such as the question of human rights. Instead, the minister's spokesperson said Fischer -- a member of the Greens party -- will probably concentrate on ways the two countries can work together to create environmentally sustainable forms of energy.

As China's economy continues to boom, oil and other natural resources are being consumed at an increasing rate. For the world's most populous country, a constant and reliable energy source is becoming more and more important. Fischer hopes alternative sources such as solar power may satisfy the growing need. In the province of Shangdong he will unveil the world's largest solar collector facility -- a joint German-Chinese initiative. Right now solar collectors in China produce as much energy as three nuclear power plants. Germany is seeking to support solar power development in China over the long term.

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