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President Joachim Gauck sets out to develop and deepen ties during state visit to China

President Joachim Gauck's five-day visit to China includes talks with the country's leaders on developing and deepening ties, as well as ceremonial visits. He's also expected to speak out on controversial issues.

President Joachim Gauck began his five-day state visit to China on Monday with visits to famous landmarks, including the Summer Palace, a military parade, political meetings and the start of the Year of Youth Exchanges between Germany and China.

China Peking BPr Joachim Gauck (R) und Päsident Xi Jinping

President Gauck and President Xi Jinping inspect troops

On his first day in Beijing, Gauck met with President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang. Gauck and Xi announced the Year of Youth Exchanges, for German and Chinese high school and college students. Gauck said "I come at a time when it is important to develop existing bridges and to deepen relations."

Gauck said that he wanted to discuss both "similarities and differences" with the Chinese leadership, adding in an interview published in China: "Both sides know that on some political issues, we do not really agree with each other but we are ready to hold a discussion." The president admitted there were also elements of competition, in terms of the economy and between the social systems, but with "mutual and great respect."

After being greeted by Xi at the Great Hall of the People, at the western edge of Tiananmen Square, Gauck said: "It pleases me that the leading nation of Asia and the Federal Republic of Germany have a balanced and harmonious relationship."

Gauck, former anti-communist activist

Gauck had been invited to China on many occasions but this is the

first time he has accepted the offer.

When President Xi Jinping visited Germany in 2014, Gauck called on Beijing to step up efforts to promote the rule of law and stressed the importance of human rights.

With premier Li Keqiang, Gauck discussed the development of economic relations between the two countries, the slowing of growth in China and the new five-year plan which was announced in Beijing last week.

On his first visit to the People's Republic, much has been made of Gauck's background. He grew up under the former East Germany in the north eastern city of Rostock, the son of a survivor of a Soviet gulag. The former Lutheran pastor came to prominence as an anti-communist civil rights activist and for 10 years served as the first Federal Commissioner for Stasi Records, until 2000. As commissioner, he earned recognition as a tireless pro-democracy advocate, exposing the crimes of the communist-era secret police.

Watch video 00:35

Gauck arrives in China

Ahead of the visit, Gauck said he would raise a host of issues, ranging from civil rights and the environment to foreign policy. A member of the delegation said that the president had "put many critical questions" to his hosts.

Writers and artists

Gauck plans to meet with artist Zeng Fanzhi and five writers on Tuesday.

During the visit, the German delegation is expected to hand over a list to the Chinese government with the names of dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and lawyers who continue to suffer under state repression or are behind bars.

On Monday, the lawyer of a well-known columnist, Jia Jia, said that Chinese police "took away" the writer before he tried to board a flight for Hong Kong. His whereabouts are still unknown.

Jia Jia writes a regular column for Tencent Online.

He went missing late last Tuesday

after warning former colleagues of the danger of re-publishing an open letter calling for President Xi Jinping to resign.

"We only know that on that day, March 15, Beijing public security bureau officials went to the airport to take Jia Jia away. Airport officials also assisted them. This is based on a notice from the airport officials," lawyer Yan Xin said.

jm/msh (dpa, Reuters)

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