Trade, Hong Kong on agenda at Germany-China talks

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

BERLIN (AP) — Economic ties between Germany and China topped the agenda at a high-level meeting Friday between the two countries' governments, with human rights and the situation in Hong Kong expected be raised behind closed doors.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang were scheduled to sign an accord aimed at expanding bilateral business ties between Europe and Asia's biggest economies.

China, which overtook Germany as the world's leading exporter in 2009, is a key market for Germany even as its growth cools. China was Germany's No. 3 trading partner last year and its biggest outside Europe, with trade totaling 140.7 billion euros ($179 billion).

In a weekly video message Saturday, Merkel called for freedom of speech to be protected in Hong Kong. Students in the semi-autonomous city have been protesting for weeks against China's restrictions on the first direct election for Hong Kong's leader, promised for 2017.

Government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said Germany is also concerned about the detention of a Chinese news assistant working for the Beijing correspondent of a German newspaper.

Zhang Miao was detained on her way to a poetry reading in support of the Hong Kong demonstrations, her employer, the German weekly Die Zeit, said.

Her brother, Zhang Yi, said Friday the family is anxiously waiting for her return. "We don't think she would have done anything illegal and we hope she can be freed as soon as possible," he said.

Zhang said neither family members nor his sister's lawyer have been able to meet her since the Oct. 2 detention.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Wei said Zhang "is suspected of engaging in provoking and causing troubles."

"This person did not follow China's relevant regulations in acquiring her status as an employee for the Beijing office of the German news outlet, so the China's relevant authorities are handling this matter in accordance with law and rules," he told the Associated Press in a written statement.


Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.