German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for the protection of Hong Kong residents’ rights and freedoms and for peaceful solutions to the massive protests during a visit to Beijing on Friday.
“The rights and freedoms of the citizens of Hong Kong need to be assured of course,” Merkel said during a news conference alongside Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
She added that “everything” needed to be done to avoid violence, and solutions to the protests that have rocked Hong Kong for weeks must be reached through dialogue.
Merkel also discussed trade as she kicked off her three-day visit to China. Later on Friday, she had dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Sitting alongside Merkel at the news conference, Li became the highest-ranking Chinese official to comment on the Hong Kong unrest that has made international headlines and put pressure on Beijing.
Beijing supports the Hong Kong government in ending the “chaos” within the framework of the law, Li said, adding that Chinese people had the wisdom to handle the protests on the basis of law.
Fears have grown in recent weeks that Beijing might send in the military upon the Hong Kong government’s request to quell the protests in the semi-autonomous city.
Merkel said she welcomed Hong Kong’s move this week to formally withdraw a controversial extradition bill that has been at the centre of demonstrators’ discontent.
She said there are signs Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam wants to foster a dialogue with protesters.
“I hope the demonstrators will take part in the dialogue,” Merkel said.
Leaders from the Hong Kong protest movement had asked to meet with the German leader during her trip, but a spokesman for Merkel said she did not plan on meeting with them.
Merkel and Li signed a total of 11 cooperation agreements in areas such as aviation, automotive, clean energy, finance and education, as they kicked off a visit that was set to focus heavily on trade.
Merkel expressed her hope for a quick resolution in the U.S.-China trade war. The protracted trade war between the world’s two largest economies is affecting other countries as well, she said.
The German economy is on the brink of recession after contracting in the second quarter of the year due to weakened exports.
At the same time, the Chinese economy is growing at the slowest pace in almost three decades, as it reels from U.S. tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods.
Merkel, who is leading a large business delegation to Beijing, also said she hoped an EU-China investment agreement would be finalized soon.
Germany and the EU have both over the past year tightened their rules for screening foreign investment, leading to accusations of protectionism by Beijing.
An investment agreement would remove some of the hurdles and is sought out by both Europe and China.
China-Germany ties are on solid ground, and even though there are some conflicts, the two sides have made some progress in addressing them, Merkel said.
Merkel also took part in talks at the China-Germany Economic Advisory Committee, a platform for business leaders and politicians.
On Saturday, she is set to fly to Wuhan in central China to meet with business representatives and students from Huazhong University.