BERLIN •Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for expanded trade between the two nations, taking a joint stand before the Group of 20 summit during a day of panda diplomacy in Berlin.
Mr Xi's stop in the German capital, two days before Dr Merkel hosts other G-20 leaders in Hamburg, underscored the bond between the world's No. 1 and No. 3 merchandise exporters as they step into the global leadership gap left by US President Donald Trump's administration.
Mr Trump's testy relationship with China and Germany is pushing the two countries closer together, despite Berlin's concerns about human rights in China and frustrations over market access.
"German-Chinese relations stand before a new beginning, for which we need new breakthroughs," Mr Xi said alongside Dr Merkel in Berlin after the two oversaw the signing of agreements between China and firms including Siemens AG, Airbus SE and Daimler AG.
Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox
After the press conference, Berlin played host to the ultimate Chinese gesture of tightening relations in an environment buffeted by geopolitical risk: the panda handover. China gave two pandas to the United States in 1972, after then President Richard Nixon made his historic first visit to communist China.
Two Chinese giant pandas had their official coming-out at the Berlin zoo yesterday in a ceremony attended by Mr Xi and Dr Merkel and broadcast live. Jiao Ping and his female companion Meng Meng had been flown to Berlin last month and honoured with a new panda pavilion. The two leaders were also due to attend a game of youth soccer, a nod to Mr Xi's push to make China a power in the sport.
Germany and China are bonding over shared goals of free trade and curbing climate change. Dr Merkel said she will seek to move along talks between China and the European Union on the former's trade status and called for progress towards an investment accord that could in time lead to a free-trade agreement.
German-Chinese relations have been repositioned, Mr Xi said. Dr Merkel said Germany is ready to participate in Mr Xi's Belt and Road Initiative to upgrade trade links along the ancient Silk Road across Asia. Deals signed in the two leaders' presence included a Chinese order for Airbus A320 aircraft and expanded cooperation between German carmaker Daimler AG and China's BAIC Motor Corp.
The two leaders also discussed improving cooperation on cyber security and working more closely together on fighting international terrorism.
But Dr Merkel added: "In my view, we must intensively pursue the human rights dialogue, looking at how different parts of society can better express themselves. In this respect, cooperation in the field of civil society can be further strengthened."
The Merkel-Xi moment contrasts with the two-day G-20 summit starting tomorrow in Hamburg, which the Chancellor has said will suffer "discord".
"There will be difficult talks on a range of topics," Mr Steffen Seibert, Dr Merkel's spokesman, told reporters in Berlin yesterday. "There are all kinds of cliffs to navigate around."