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Gauck welcomes China president

March 28, 2014

In his welcome ceremony for Chinese President Xi Jinping, German President Gauck has praised the Asian giant’s commitment to economic reform. The speech kicked off Xi’s first visit to Germany since becoming president.

Deutschland China Xi Jinping in Berlin Jubel
Image: Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife were received at the German president's Berlin residence, Schloss Bellevue, on Friday with a military ceremony. Joachim Gauck used the opportunity to praise one of Germany's most important trade partners, while also subtly urging China to improve its human rights record.

"Mr. President, you visited Berlin five years ago as vice president. China has changed since then and its transformation has changed the world," Gauck said, referring to Beijing's economic growth spurt in recent years. While the world's second-largest economy has shown signs of slowing down, European investors still view it as a viable market which could help reinvigorate ailing EU economies.

Gauck praised the will to reform systems that would help bolster Beijing's economic plans, but he also warned that China must foster trust among its 1.3 billion citizens.

"No state can exist without the trust of the people," Gauck said, quoting the 6th century B.C. Chinese philosopher Confucius.

The consequences of open dissent in China have become known across the globe as overly harsh, with imprisonment and death sentences for politicians who have fallen out of favor with Beijing making international headlines. It has also earned a reputation for punishing opponents of the state, including journalists and artists.

Trade deals unclear

Following lunch with President Gauck, the Chinese leader was scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

China is Germany's most important trade partner in Asia and second most important globally after the US. According to provisional figures the government statistics agency Destatis, the value of exports to China - mainly vehicles, machines, electrical and chemical products - reached 67 billion euros ($92.1 billion) in 2013. Meanwhile, imports from the Asian country cost 73.4 billion euros in total.

For its part, Germany ranks as China's sixth most important trade partner in the world, and its most important in the EU. Rumors were circulating ahead of the meeting with the chancellor on Friday regarding potential trade deals between Berlin and Beijing.

Daimler reportedly planned to sign commercial accords worth an estimated total of 18 billion euros ($24.7 billion) with Beijing Automative, according to the German DPA news agency, which cited company sources. The companies have had a joint venture for the past decade and Daimler's Mercedes carmaker has production facilities in China.

Germany's financial paper Handelsblatt also reported plans for a preliminary agreement between Germany and China's central banks which could pave the way for the establishment of a trading center for the Chinese yuan currency in Frankfurt.

Xi's first European visit has already focused on foreign investment, on the most recent leg his trip, in France, he signed off on an order with the European aviation giant Airbus worth 10 billion euros. Xi's planned visit to Brussels is also seen as a move to strengthen economic ties with the 28-member bloc.

Coaxing China away from Russia

China's alliance with Russia is also expected to be on Friday's agenda. In recent weeks, diplomatic ties between Western leaders and Russia have deteriorated over Moscow's refusal to recognize the interim government in Ukraine.

Thus far, Beijing has remained largely supportive of Moscow. Last month, however, it opted to abstain from a UN Security Council vote to condemn the Crimea's referendum paving the way for it to join Russia - forcing Moscow to veto the motion alone.

Amid the threat of major trade disruptions and sanctions with Russia, Merkel's meeting with the Chinese leader has been portrayed as a window of opportunity to secure more cooperation from Xi in smoothing tensions with Moscow.

kms/dr (AFP, Reuters, dpa)