Steinmeier to visit quake-hit China region

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will travel to China on Friday where he will meet Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and visit earthquake-hit Sichuan province.

Steinmeier to visit quake-hit China region
A Chinese refugee camp in Sichuan. Photo: DPA

Steinmeier, a well-known figure on the international diplomatic scene tipped as a possible future chancellor, will travel with MPs, business leaders and a cultural delegation, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger told a news conference on Wednesday.

The three-day visit follows an invitation to Steinmeier issued by his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi at a meeting between the two in Berlin in January.

Steinmeier has been at the forefront of patching up relations between Germany and China after Chancellor Angela Merkel angered the Chinese by meeting the Dalai Lama last September.

Steinmeier, who favours quiet diplomacy on Tibet, has distanced himself from Merkel’s meeting and steered clear of meeting the Tibetan spiritual leader when he visited Germany last month, when Merkel was out of the country.

The spat threatened to damage Germany’s lucrative economic relations with China – a market of significant and growing importance for firms such as carmaker Volkswagen, industrial conglomerate Siemens and chemicals giant BASF. Europe’s biggest economy exported €29.9 billion ($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.

“We adhere to the ‘One China Policy’,” Jaeger said. “Our cooperation is close and covers numerous areas. We have an open, constructive and, where necessary, critical dialogue on all questions, including when it comes to the situation with Tibet.”

“China is too big a country for people outside to be able to dictate to it how to conduct its development. We have a great deal of respect for the country’s people who are working so that the modernisation and opening up of their country goes in the right direction,” he said.

In Beijing, Steinmeier will meet with Yang, Wen and with State Councillor Dai Bingguo, China’s leading diplomatic adviser, as well as representatives from Chinese civil society, Jaeger said.

After Beijing, Steinmeier will head to Chongqing, home to 32 million people, where he will meet with local officials and take part in an urbanisation forum before travelling to the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu.

There he will meet German aid workers helping survivors of last month’s devastating earthquake which left more than 86,000 people dead or missing. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters Thursday that China was ready to discuss Tibet and the issue of the Dalai Lama with Steinmeier.

He also thanked Berlin for its prompt quake relief aid. “The Chinese government attaches great importance to our relations with Germany,” Qin said.

“On the basis of mutual respect and equality and openly dealing with our differences, we are willing to make joint efforts to promote a healthy development of our bilateral relations.”

Before heading to China, Steinmeier was due to participate in an international conference in Paris on Afghanistan on Thursday attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Jaeger said.