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Germany, China repair ties after Dalai Lama row

January 24, 2008

By Markus Krah

BERLIN Tue Jan 22, 2008 (Reuters) - Germany and China said on Tuesday
that bilateral relations had returned to normal after a four-month-long
chill over Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to host Tibet's exiled
spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has spent months trying to
patch up relations, and on Tuesday he met his Chinese counterpart Yang
Jiechi before talks including other countries on Iran's disputed nuclear
programme.

"China values its ties to Germany and the continuation of these links,"
Yang told reporters at a joint news conference.

"We are ready to meet the challenges we both face together, hand in hand
with Germany," he said, adding it was important that neither country
meddled in the other's affairs.

Beijing cancelled a number of high-level meetings with German officials
after Merkel became the first German chancellor to meet with the Dalai
Lama, whom the Chinese government views as a separatist.

German business leaders voiced concerns in the wake of the meeting that
China could penalise domestic firms as punishment.

"We cannot hide the fact that the last weeks and months have not been
easy for German-Chinese relations, so I am even happier that today's
meeting sends a signal that we are returning to a normalisation as of
today," said Steinmeier.

A diplomatic source told Reuters several ministerial visits had already
been set up. Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel plans to go to China in
the next few weeks and Steinmeier himself has accepted an invitation for
later in the year.

Steinmeier also suggested that a German delegation visit Tibet to get an
idea of the situation, said the source.

Merkel said in a radio interview that she was also pleased at the
normalisation of relations.

Steinmeier, a leading member of the centre-left Social Democrats, had
criticised Merkel, a conservative, for holding the meeting, deriding it
as a public relations stunt.

Merkel had defended the meeting, insisting she could meet with whomever
she wanted.

"Friends must be able to bear a disagreement," Merkel told German NDR
radio in an interview.

Steinmeier said he had sought to repair relations by reassuring Yang
about German support for the "One China Policy".

Foreign ministers from Russia, the United States, Britain, France,
Germany and China are meeting in Berlin on Tuesday to discuss possible
further sanctions for Iran over its nuclear work.
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