BEIJING • German Chancellor Angela Merkel will pay an official visit to China next week, as European powers jockey for trade and investment deals with the world's second-largest economy.
Dr Merkel will be in China next Thursday and Friday at the invitation of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing yesterday.
The trip comes on the heels of a high-profile visit to Britain by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande is preparing to visit Beijing next month.
The European Union is China's largest trading partner, but tensions remain over market access and alleged Chinese "dumping" of products such as steel.
In recent years, European businesses - including German carmaker Volkswagen - have also faced large fines in China for violating anti-trust laws.
Many EU firms complain that Beijing restricts market access to sectors where Chinese firms in Europe are free to operate.
On past trips to China, Dr Merkel has publicly raised the issue of human rights, as the ruling Communist Party continues to crack down on activists.
Earlier this week, it was reported that Germany had granted Chinese dissident artist and free-speech advocate Ai Weiwei a visa to stay there for three years, during which he will take up a teaching post at a Berlin university.
Mr Ai was reunited with his son and partner in the German capital after the Chinese authorities unexpectedly returned his passport in July. They confiscated it four years ago after having detained him for 81 days.
Of the 28 EU nations, Germany has the greatest trade exposure to China, thanks largely to demand for its cars and the strength of its engineering industry.
However, risks to German industry have increased because of the economic slowdown in China and other emerging markets, as well as uncertainty generated by Volkswagen's emissions scandal.
Last week, the German government lowered its growth forecast for this year, trimming it back slightly to 1.7 per cent.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS