BEIJING — German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in China on Sunday for her seventh visit since 2005, with economic ties topping the agenda and a high-powered business delegation in tow. Merkel touched down early Sunday in the southwestern city of Chengdu, where she met local officials, visited a market and toured a factory operated by German car manufacturer Volkswagen. Merkel is due to arrive later Sunday in Beijing, where she will wrap up the first day of the three-day visit by meeting Premier Li Keqiang for dinner at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. For the EU’s biggest economy, China is a crucial mass market. Chinese companies want its technology and millions of newly prosperous citizens crave German goods ranging from Audi sedans to luxury home appliances. Germany last year sold goods worth 67 billion euros (US$91 billion) to China, its number-two export market outside Europe after the United States. Imports from the Asian powerhouse, meanwhile, topped 73 billion euros (US$99 billion). Merkel angered Beijing in 2007 by meeting Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, whom ruling Communist Party leaders consider a dangerous separatist.
But during the latest visit, any discussion of human rights is likely to take place behind closed doors, an approach that German officials have argued can be more effective in China than finger-wagging reprimands. In a commentary, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency on Sunday hailed Merkel’s trip. “It is fair to say that China-Germany relations are at their best in history, which have been strongly underpinned by the pragmatic cooperation between the two economic heavyweights,” it said. Among the companies represented in Merkel’s delegation — and eyeing deals that could further cement bilateral ties — are Siemens, VW, Airbus, Lufthansa and Deutsche Bank, according to German media reports. In Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, Merkel attended an urban forum with provincial Communist Party secretary Wang Dongming, went shopping at the Shenxianshu Market and visited the FAW-Volkswagen factory, where she was hosted by VW CEO Martin Winterkorn and FAW group CEO Xu Jianyi. Merkel is expected to hold a joint press conference Monday with Li and will also attend the China-Germany Economic and Trade Commission before meeting President Xi Jinping. On Tuesday she will address students at Beijing’s renowned Tsinghua University before departing for Berlin.