BERLIN — German and Chinese leaders on Tuesday pledged a big increase in trade between their countries, the biggest economies of Europe and Asia, while China's premier underlined his support for the eurozone amid its debt crisis.
After a meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao dominated by economic issues, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also pressed for "transparent" handling of the case of recently released Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, a prominent government critic.
Merkel welcomed Wen and many Chinese ministers to Berlin, a reception that she said opened a "new chapter" in relations — underlining Germany's hopes of deepening political and economic ties with fast-rising China.
Germany and China want to increase their annual bilateral trade volume to €200 billion ($284 billion) by 2015, she said. Wen voiced hopes that the countries could even double their trade volume over five years.
Trade between China and Germany totaled just over €130 billion last year, a 38.5 percent increase compared with 2009. China was the No. 7 buyer of German exports, at €53.6 billion; and it led the list of importers to Germany, which bought Chinese goods and services worth €76.5 billion.
"We both take the view that what is good can become better," Merkel said. She added that China and Germany are "ideal partners" to develop electric cars for the future, for example, and said both sides want to increase investments.
Germany and the rest of the 17-nation eurozone are grappling with Greece's deepening debt crisis.
China has said repeatedly that "when Europe has difficulties, we reach out our helping hand," Wen said at a joint news conference.
"We have said that we have confidence in the European economy, that we have confidence in the euro," Wen said through an interpreter. "We have also said that we support some countries, as needed, in that we buy their government bonds to a certain extent."
Wen, whose visit to Germany followed stops in Hungary and Britain, insisted that some European Union countries' economic difficulties "are of temporary character" and that growth in the region is "useful for the whole world."
China is prepared to buy more high-quality German goods, Wen said, but he also called for Berlin to quickly grant it formal recognition as a full market economy to help remove obstacles to trade.
He said that "we are not forcing anyone into technology transfer" but urged Germany to seek a loosening of EU restrictions on technology exports.
German officials say there's no contradiction between pursuing trade interests in China and also raising concerns about the country's human rights record.
Last week, artist Ai was freed after nearly three months in detention that drew widespread criticism in Germany. He was the most high-profile target of a sweeping crackdown on activists this year.
Merkel said after meeting Wen Tuesday that the government critics' release was welcome but it's important that there now be "transparent proceedings" for Ai and others.
China says Ai admitted to tax evasion; a friend said Tuesday that Beijing tax authorities are seeking nearly $2 million in back taxes and fines from him.
"We welcomed the fact that the artist Ai Weiwei was released as well as Hu Jia," another prominent activist, Merkel said as she spoke alongside Wen.
However, "we also noted that it is important that transparent proceedings follow for Ai Weiwei and for all others who are affected by such proceedings," she added.
Tuesday's meeting involved the signing of several bilateral deals, including an agreement in general terms for China to buy 88 Airbus jets.