China's president arrived in Berlin Thursday night and was met with the praise of German President Horst Köhler and the protests of only a few human rights campaigners.
President Hu Jintao, with Köhler, is looking to firm up economic ties
Members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, whose members are persecuted and jailed in China, began a 24-hour protest vigil Thursday evening after President Hu Jintao arrived in Berlin. They plan to continue until his departure on Sunday.
Their protests will largely fall on deaf ears among German government officials. Germany's leadership has proven in the past few years that it clearly recognizes China's growing economic might, and President Köhler was no exception.
After talks with Hu, Köhler said China had "achieved an enormous amount in the past few decades and is taking huge strides".
He had only reserved criticism for the communist regime following a meeting with Hu in Berlin's opulent Charlottenburg Palace Thursday evening.
"We know that everything comes in its own time and we understand that China is making its own way, but we also know that the will of the people to live in freedom and dignity is universal," Köhler told the press conference.
Bundespraesident Horst Köhler had mostly praise for the "great strides" China has made in recent years
Chancellor's open door policy
The two heads of state broke ground on a Chinese cultural center in Berlin which, according to Hu, will help "further develop our relationship." On Friday morning, he met with Chancellor designate Angela Merkel, before heading off for an official meeting with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who has used his chancellorship to open the door to the Chinese market for German companies.
The Chancellor was criticized regularly by human rights groups for a China strategy they charged ignored the country's poor human rights record. His attempt, together with France, to lift an EU weapons embargo on China ultimately fizzled.
Hu will likely not be happy to hear that Merkel's government won't continue Schröder's campaign.
Embargo not on the Merkel agenda
"Lifting the arms embargo is not on the agenda of the new government," the foreign policy spokesman of Merkel's Christian Democrats, Friedbert Pflüger, told Thursday's Berliner Zeitung newspaper.
President Hu with Köhler in front of Charlottenburg palace. At left is Koehler's wife Eva Luise, Hu's wife Liu Yongqing is second from left.
In his remarks Thursday evening, Hu didn't address the embargo issue or human rights. Instead, he said that the signing of business deals showed how close China and Germany worked together in the fields of economy, culture and science.
"I am convinced that closer cooperation will serve the people of both countries," Hu said.
Germany is China's biggest European trade partner, with German exports rising 12.7 percent in the first half of 2005 to 9.48 billion euros.
Hu is to visit the industrial region of North Rhine-Westphalia on Saturday before heading to Spain on Sunday morning.