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Opinion

Opinion: Merkel in China - Panda bears and gun salutes

Prior to Angela Merkel's China trip, the big question was whether Germany's significance for China was diminishing. But it's now clear Beijing has done everything to counter this impression, says DW's Philipp Bilsky.

Even the weather worked in favor of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's two-day China tour. And as smog levels in Beijing remained low, journalists and photographers were able to take impressive pictures of the visit.

Prior to the trip, one question dominated the discussions: Would the United Kingdom replace Germany as China's most important partner in Europe? Several arguments were put forward in favor of this claim, especially following Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent UK visit.

London courted the Chinese leader for four days. British PM David Cameron even spoke of a "golden era" in Sino-British relations as major trade and investment deals valued at almost 40 billion GBP ($61.1 billion) were signed. Some analysts later claimed the visit showed Beijing could have other potential partners in Europe.

Bilsky Philipp Kommentarbild App

DW's Philipp Bilsky

Economic reforms

The ongoing restructuring of the Chinese economy could also lead to Germany losing its influence - at least in the long term.

Chinese policymakers are currently striving to rebalance the country from being an export-reliant economy to one driven by domestic consumption.

This means that economic sectors in which Germany is a world leader - such as machine tools - will become less and less important for China in the long run, provided China's economic restructuring process is successful.

Symbolism and trade deals

But it's important to keep in mind that during Merkel's visit, China's leaders tried everything - especially through gesture politics - to counter claims of Berlin's diminishing importance to Beijing.

For instance, Merkel was welcomed with multiple gun salutes and able to announce at a press conference that two giant pandas were being transferred to the Berlin Zoo - a clear sign of appreciation.

In another symbolic move on Merkel's second day in China, the Chancellor traveled with Premier Li Keqiang to his home province. Li pointed out, he had never accompanied a foreign leader on a one-day trip from Beijing into a province.

Progress was also made on a host of other issues. The two countries signed trade deals worth billions, urged a political solution to the Syrian conflict and announced their willingness to abstain from industrial espionage - an important step as the cooperation on digitization of industrial processes had stalled due to German concerns that their companies' intellectual property rights weren't being duly protected in China.

Only time will tell what role China will ultimately play in the Syrian conflict, and whether its protection of intellectual property rights will significantly improve. But, at least for now, the skeptics and pessimists have been taught better.

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