BERLIN

The Pak Banker - - COMPANIES/BOSS -

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping presided over the sign­ing of a string of deals with au­tomak­ers and oth­ers as he started a visit to Ger­many to­day, while Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel prod­ded him on the im­por­tance of free speech.

Xi was mak­ing his first visit as pres­i­dent to Ger­many, Europe's big­gest econ­omy, as part of a wider Euro­pean tour that also has taken him to neigh­bor­ing France.

Busi­ness ties took cen­ter stage at Xi's meet­ing with Merkel. The two lead­ers over­saw the sign­ing of deals in­clud­ing agree­ments for au­tomak­ers Daim­ler and BMW to deepen ties with their Chi­nese part­ners, and a deal be­tween the coun­tries' cen­tral banks that will al­low yuan-de­nom­i­nated pay­ments to be cleared and set­tled in Ger­many's fi­nan­cial cen­ter, Frankfurt.

China and Ger­many, two of the world's leading ex­porters, had a bi­lat­eral trade vol­ume last year of 140.4 bil­lion eu­ros ($193 bil­lion) - mak­ing China Ger­many's No. 3 trade part­ner, ahead of the United States.

Merkel said Ger­many would push for the quick con­clu­sion of an in­vest­ment agree­ment be­tween China and the Euro­pean Union "which could also be a pre­cur­sor for a fu­ture free trade agree­ment."

Merkel also touched on hu­man rights and said she had made clear that "broad and free ex­pres­sion of opin­ion is of course a very im­por­tant el­e­ment to ad­vance a so­ci­ety's cre­ativ­ity." Xi didn't re­spond to that. Xi's visit comes as the EU has im­posed sanc­tions against Rus­sia over its an­nex­a­tion of Crimea from Ukraine. China, Rus­sia's usual ally on the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

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