German minister starts China visit after recovery of ties

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German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel meets Chinese officials in the southern city of Guangzhou, as he begins the highest-level visit since the two nations ended a diplomatic spat sparked by Chancellor Angela Merkel's meeting with the Dalai Lama last September.

30th January 2008

Beijing (dpa) - Officials travelling with Gabriel said they did not expect his three-day visit to be affected by the transport chaos gripping snow-hit areas of southern and central China.

Gabriel, whose trip is mainly aimed at promoting German environmental technology, was scheduled to fly to Beijing on Wednesday evening for meetings on Thursday with Chinese central government officials.

He also planned to attend a Sino-German conference on energy and climate change and visit the China Electric Power Research Institute in Beijing, German officials said.

Gabriel's visit is the first by a German minister since German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, said bilateral relations had "normalized" following their meeting in Berlin last week.

German officials said last week that there had been an intensive exchange of diplomatic notes over recent weeks to put an end to the strains caused by Merkel's "private exchange of views" with the Dalai Lama on September 23 last year.

The official China Daily gave one possible clue as to why China took a tougher line with Germany than it did with the United States, whose President George W Bush held a much higher-profile meeting with the Dalai Lama in October.

"China's relations with Germany are less essential to the world order than its ties with the US and Japan," the newspaper said last week in a report of the meeting between Steinmeier and Yang.

"A situation in which the leaders of the two countries have absolutely no contact would be diplomatically unacceptable for both, especially Germany," the newspaper said.

Diplomatic sources said in Berlin that Steinmeier would visit Beijing in May at Yang's invitation and that a group of German parliamentarians would visit China this year, travelling to Tibet for a first-hand impression of conditions there.

Trade between the two countries has expanded rapidly in recent years, reaching 76.3 billion euros (110 billion dollars) in 2006, with China running a surplus of 21 billion euros.



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