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Germany and China move toward rapprochement

BERLIN - The foreign ministers of Germany and China have conducted two months of "secret diplomacy" to mend relations between the countries ahead of a meeting in Berlin next week, according to a magazine report.

German weekly Der Spiegel said Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had exchanged secret letters with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi to repair ties damaged by Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to receive the Dalai Lama last year.

Berlin is expected to host the Chinese foreign minister during six-way talks on Iran's nuclear programme next week.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment on the report, but noted Steinmeier was working to patch things up.

"The foreign minister is trying to find a solution to the conflicts that have recently arisen in bilateral relations by working closely and intensively with the Chinese," he said.

China's Foreign Ministry confirmed that talks between the two had been ongoing, following Beijing's anger over Merkel's meeting in Berlin last September with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, whom the Chinese government regards as a separatist.

"Over the past period of time, in order to overcome difficulties that emerged in relations between China and Germany and to spur the healthy and stable development of China-German relations, the two sides have held several consultations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement on the ministry's Web site (

Following Merkel's meeting with the Dalai Lama, China later cancelled a number of high-level meetings with German officials, raising concerns among Germany's business leaders about the impact the row could have on trade.

According to Der Spiegel, Merkel knew Steinmeier had been exchanging letters with Yang, but was not informed about the details. Citing diplomats, the magazine said Steinmeier had come out in support of the "one China policy" in the exchanges.

China's statement said that Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing regards as a breakaway province that must accept reunification, was a key part of the consultations.

"The German side has expressed that the German government pays high attention to the development of relations with China and will continue to resolutely stick to the 'one-China policy'," Jiang said.

Germany would also "recognise that Taiwan and Tibet are part of China's territory, resolutely oppose Taiwan's referendum on U.N. membership, and not support or encourage any efforts toward Tibet independence," she said.

Foreign minister Yang is due in Berlin on Tuesday for talks between Germany and the five permanent members of the United Nations' Security Council -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France -- about Iran's nuclear programme.

German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler told paper Der Tagesspiegel am Sonntag a bilateral meeting between Steinmeier and Yang in Berlin would be "desirable" and might happen.

Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the paper he aimed to visit China at the end of the month, noting the Chinese were very interested in German environmental technology.

Separately, China's minister for science and technology, Wan Gang, told Monday's edition of business daily Handelsblatt Merkel was welcome "any time" to Beijing, and that his country wanted to see stronger dialogue with Germany "on all levels".

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