German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in China last week, where she visited Chengdu, in the west of the country, and Beijing. This marks Merkel’s seventh official trip to China since she took office in 2005, a further sign of the growing importance of Berlin’s special relationship with Beijing.
Germany and China have been steadily boosting ties since the late 1990s, when Gerhard Schroeder was chancellor. In 2012, then-Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, while visiting Berlin, announced the goal to increase bilateral trade with Germany from $180 billion to $280 billion by 2015. Trade between the two reached $193 billion in 2013, making Germany China’s third-biggest trade partner after the European Union and the United States. Earlier this year, Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping upgraded bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership.
Merkel’s first stop in Chengdu, where German automaker Volkswagen has a factory, is notable, as Germany is working to build a stronger presence in western China. It hopes to use Chengdu “to springboard into less developed parts of China,” explains Nele Noesselt, research fellow for German Institute of Global and Area Studies.