German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Beijing - AFP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday the euro had "made Europe stronger", as she sought to reassure Beijing that the eurozone crisis is under control on the start of a three-day visit to China.The German leader also asked China to pressure Iran over its nuclear programme as she
addressed the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing at the beginning of a trip that will also see her touch on Syria.
"The euro has made Europe stronger," she said during the speech -- just hours before planned talks with her counterpart Premier Wen Jiabao -- adding that the European Union had made "big progress" over the past few years.
Merkel is aiming to boost confidence in Europe -- which is battling a sovereign debt crisis -- and may also seek help from Beijing by calling for more Chinese investment in Europe.
Beijing is keen to see a return to growth in Europe and a stable euro.
During the speech, the leader of Europe's biggest economy said EU members were "deeply convinced" they were "on the right track" with a treaty agreed by most EU nations on Monday that aims to stop countries from overspending.
The treaty -- pushed by Germany and the European Central Bank -- will require governments to introduce laws on balanced budgets and impose near automatic sanctions on countries that violate deficit rules.
It will enter into force after at least 12 euro nations ratify it, and only those countries that sign up will be able to access bailout aid from a new rescue fund.
On bilateral trade between China and Germany -- which reached $169 billion in 2011, an 18.9 percent increase from the previous year -- Merkel called for a level playing field for German firms operating in China.
"As German entrepreneurs, we want to be treated on an equal footing with Chinese companies," she said.
Merkel's trip to China comes just days after deadly unrest hit the nation's Tibetan-inhabited areas, with the leader saying human rights would be on her agenda.
"Germany has always advocated an open, political dialogue, including on controversial issues such as human rights and building a state of law," she said.
On the diplomatic front, Merkel -- who is also due to hold talks with President Hu Jintao -- touched on current tensions surrounding Syria.
"It is important that the international community speak with one voice at the United Nations," she said.
The German leader is expected to ask for Beijing's support for a UN Security Council resolution against Syria, where fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's security forces and rebels is escalating.
On Friday, Merkel will fly to the southern province of Guangdong -- where nearly 500 German companies are already present -- with Wen and executives from the energy, chemicals, engineering, banking and electronics sectors.
Rare earths -- valuable elements that are used in the production of high-tech products and which are of "very great importance for the German economy" -- will also be on the agenda, a German government source said.
China has been accused of deliberately restricting their exports to drive up prices and force manufacturers onto its shores, but Beijing says it limits them for environmental reasons to reduce mining-related pollution.