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International relations

Merkel and Xi focus on trade, urging cross-border investments

German chancellor calls for peaceful resolution of Hong Kong protests

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought greater Chinese investment in her country as she visited Beijing on Sept. 6.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel encouraged Chinese companies to invest in her country during a visit to Beijing on Friday, and China's leaders reciprocated with a similar call to Germany's businesses.

"We welcome investments by all Chinese enterprises in Germany," Merkel said at the top of her meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. The chancellor expressed hope that such spending would jump-start the economy back home.

Chinese President Xi Jinping echoed those sentiments when he met with Merkel the same day. The president touted China's greater openness to foreign investment and urged German companies to do business within his country's borders.

"As two economic powers, it is necessary to protect free trade and multilateralism," Xi said.

Merkel arrived Friday for a two-day trip accompanied by German executives from the automotive and other sectors. Germany's economy is slowing as exports slump. Berlin shares concerns with Beijing over the U.S.-China trade frictions. As Germany's biggest trading partner, China sees eye to eye on economic cooperation.

But investments from Chinese enterprises pose political concerns internationally, especially in light of Washington's lobbying of allies to blacklist telecom equipment provider Huawei Technologies from developing 5G wireless networks. Though Merkel welcomed Chinese investment in Germany, she stopped short of accepting all spending unconditionally.

"Investments in strategic fields and key infrastructure will be scrutinized," she said during the joint news conference with Li following their meeting.

"I express hope that Germany accepts many more Chinese enterprises and eases export restrictions on certain products," Li replied.

At the news conference, Merkel urged governing authorities to practice restraint in finding an end to the months-long protests gripping Hong Kong.

"During the meeting, I pointed out that the freedom and rights of Hong Kong citizens should be guaranteed," she said, adding later that "we should do whatever is necessary to avoid violence. It is only through political dialogue that the issues can be resolved."

Hong Kong citizens have protested for months over a bill, now withdrawn, that would allow the extradition of criminal suspects to the mainland. Merkel's trip to China marks the first by the leader of a major Western nation since the demonstrations began in earnest in June.

In reply to Merkel, Li expressed support for Hong Kong's government and reiterated Beijing's commitment to preserving the "one country, two systems" framework governing the territory.

Prior to Merkel's trip, pro-democracy activists including Joshua Wong, a leader of the 2014 Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, sent an open letter to the chancellor.

"We hope that you show the courage and determination against unjust authoritarian regimes that inspired Germany and Europe before the end of the Cold War and which Europe is showing today," the letter read in part.

Merkel previously lobbied Beijing to let Liu Xia -- the wife of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died in detention -- leave China for Germany. This time, the chancellor appeared to prioritize economic cooperation and avoided statements over Hong Kong that may anger Beijing.

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