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China's Xi heads to Germany for trade, Crimea talks

BERLIN -- Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping began a landmark visit to fellow export powerhouse Germany Friday for the third leg of his European tour, which is expected to cement flourishing trade ties and focus on the Crimea crisis.

Under grey skies, Xi, accompanied by his singer wife Peng Liyuan, was greeted with military honors 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 peaceful protests.

Xi is due to hold talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the two-day stay, his first visit to Europe's top economy since taking office a year ago, and which comes the week before Berlin hosts a major exhibition by dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

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

Hans Kundnani, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the visit was largely aimed at “relationship-building” with Xi and China's new leaders.

“The economic relationship, in particular the massive growth of German exports to China in the last decades, is the basis for their increasingly close political relationship,” he told AFP.

Strong cooperation between China and Germany also benefits global political stability, Xi wrote in Friday's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily.

“An intensification of cooperation with Germany by China ... will be equally of use for the development of a multi-polar world as for ensuring and advancing peace, stability and prosperity in the world,” he wrote.

Last year German-Chinese trade hit US$161.5 billion, or 30 percent of China's overall trade commerce with Europe, according to the newly established Chinese Chamber of Trade in Germany.

After a clutch of multibillion-dollar business deals were inked during Xi's last stop in France, German luxury automaker Daimler is planning to sign a cooperation deal with Chinese partner Beijing Automotive worth around 1 billion euros, Germany's dpa news agency reported.

A Daimler spokesman would only confirm to AFP that a meeting between the two companies was scheduled in Berlin on Friday.

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