On a visit to Beijing Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged China to resolve a South China Sea dispute with the United States in international courts.
Merkel said that it was important that sea trade routes remain open, despite the dispute, which intensified this week after a U.S. warship challenged China’s maritime assertions in the South China Sea.
Merkel met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang while Germany and China signed various commercial agreements Thursday, including a deal for Chinese airlines to buy 130 jets manufactures by Airbus Group SE valued at $17 billion.
Merkel is accompanied by a delegation of about 20 German executives, including Volkswagen’s new CEO Matthias Muller, representing the machinery, auto, electrical and telecommunication sectors.
China is Germany’s third biggest trade partner in the world, with bilateral trade amounting to over $165 billion in 2014.
Merkel also met with Chinese human rights activists Thursday. Her spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted that at the end of her first day visit to China “Chancellor Merkel met members of Chinese civil society: human rights lawyers, writers and bloggers."
Names of the activists she met were not made public, but Seibert said ahead of her trip that "in all our meetings with Chinese officials, human rights, rule of law and democracy issues play a role but I won't go into specifics here."
Washington has also expressed concern about Beijing’s human rights records. U.S. President Barack Obama openly criticized China during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Washington late September, saying China's treatment of human rights activists was "problematic."