Updated: 03/29/2014 03:57 | By Agence France-Presse

China, Germany rev up political, economic ties on Xi visit

Export giants Germany and China pledged to deepen their strategic ties Friday during a landmark visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Berlin, which also saw the inking of a raft of economic pacts.

China, Germany rev up political, economic ties on Xi visit

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the Koerber Foundation in Berlin on March 28, 2014 in Berlin - by Johannes Eisele

Germany's leading car industry took centre-stage on Xi's third stop of a European tour, with auto giant Daimler announcing a production deal with its Chinese partner worth one billion euros ($1.4 billion).

The partnership with Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation (BAIC Group) plans to expand production capacity at their joint venture Beijing Benz (BBAC) by 2015.

Xi road-tested a few motoring metaphors for the occasion, saying that as long as the two countries' partnership had "a full tank" and good steering, it would have a "promising future".

"When driving a car one mustn't just keep the few metres ahead in view but one must also look into the distance. That's the only way to guarantee a safe trip," Xi told a joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany is China's biggest EU trading partner, while the Asian giant is a massive market for German machines, technology and cars.

The two leaders said they were dedicated to building on their close ties with regular consultations on regional and global issues and stronger coordination in the UN, G20 and other international bodies. 

With all eyes fixed on Russia's next move in Ukraine, Merkel said their talks had also covered the crisis in Crimea and reiterated that Germany was "very clearly for the observance of territorial integrity... and international law".

For his part, Xi said China sought to stay out of the internal affairs of other states and respected all nations' integrity and sovereignty, but he called on all parties to continue to push for a political and diplomatic solution.

"We support the constructive efforts which the international community is undertaking to reduce tension," he said.

- Rights 'important' in dialogue -

While Xi made no reference to human rights issues, Merkel said that the topic was an "important" part of German-Chinese dialogue and stressed the importance of freedom of expression in a constantly changing world.

Xi's visit comes the week before the largest-ever exhibition of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei opens in Berlin. The outspoken artist is unable to attend as his passport was confiscated by Beijing in 2011 after a nearly three-month detention.

Accompanied by his singer wife Peng Liyuan, Xi was earlier greeted with military honours by his counterpart Joachim Gauck, a former East German rights activist, in the grounds of the presidential palace.

Outside, about 50 pro-Tibet campaigners staged a peaceful protest.

Gauck welcomed economic reforms announced by Beijing's new leadership and urged China to continue its push towards more liberal markets and a system of justice "in which nobody is to stand above the law".

He also indirectly addressed human rights, saying reforms could help balance different interests, including between religious communities. 

"The alternative to that would be discord, conflict and violence", he said in a speech attended by Xi.

Last year German-Chinese trade hit $161.5 billion, according to the newly-established Chinese Chamber of Trade in Germany. 

After a clutch of multi-billion-dollar business deals were inked during Xi's last stop in France, a raft of 18 political and economic pacts, many of them declarations of intent or preliminary accords, were signed in Berlin Friday.

Among them, the Bundesbank and China's central bank agreed a declaration of intent to set up a yuan clearing and settlement centre in Germany's financial capital, Frankfurt.

There had been speculation that Xi would visit the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin as a way of contrasting the way Germany has confronted its Nazi past with Japan's controversial celebration of wartime heroes. 

That did not happen, but Xi twice referred to "atrocities" committed by Japan during World War II in a speech later on Friday in Berlin, insisting that China's rising economic and military strength was vital to ensuring "amicable relations with its neighbours".

On Saturday Xi will visit a logistics centre at the river port in the western city of Duisburg, linked with China by the world's longest rail freight transport line.

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