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Germany

Top German Official to Visit China's Earthquake Zone

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will tour the earthquake-hit Sichuan province on a trip to China that begins Friday, June 13. He will also meet Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to discuss trade issues.

German and Chinese flags

Steinmeier will try to smooth relations with China

Steinmeier, who is considered a likely candidate for chancellor, will travel to China with members of the German parliament, business leaders and a cultural delegation, according to spokesman Martin Jaeger.

Steinmeier's Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi invited him to tour the country at a meeting in January, Jaeger told a news conference. The foreign minister's three-day trip will include both meetings with high-level governmental officials and a tour earthquake-hit Sichuan province.

Steinmeier will meet German aid workers in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province in southwestern China. They are there as part of an international effort to help survivors of last month's devastating earthquake which left over 86,000 people dead or missing.

Economic ties seen as crucial

Steinmeier has been at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to repair relations with China after Chancellor Angela Merkel angered the Chinese by meeting the Dalai Lama in September, 2007. Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, was critical of his coalition partner and political rival's decision to meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader.

The row over Merkel's meeting threatened Germany's economic relations with China. The growing Chinese market is seen as crucial to many large German companies such as Volkswagen, Siemens and BASF.

Germany exported 29.9 billion euros ($46.6 billion) worth of goods to China in 2007, according to the German statistics office. In the other direction, trade totalled 54.6 billion euros.

Steinmeier's critics have accused him of being more concerned with trade than with the Chinese crackdown of protests in Tibet. The foreign minister avoided meeting the Dalai Lama when he visited Germany in May.

Germany has an "open, constructive and where necessary critical dialogue on all questions, including when it comes to the situation with Tibet," Jaeger said.

Respect for modernization efforts

Steinmeier will start his trip in Beijing where he will meet with Yang, Wen and with State Councilor Dai Bingguo, China's leading diplomatic adviser. He then heads to Chongqing, home to 32 million people, where he will meet with local officials and take part in an urbanization forum before traveling to the earthquake area.

"China is too big a country for people outside to be able to dictate to it how to conduct its development," Jaeger told journalists. "We have a great deal of respect for the country's people who are working so that the modernization and opening up of their country goes in the right direction."

Steinmeier will head to China directly after an international conference in Paris to discuss Afghanistan.

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