BEIJING – German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized industrial spying Monday while on a visit to China, which Germany and other governments have cited as a global center for economic espionage.
Merkel did not single out China in her comments, which came during a news conference with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, saying that Germany is against industrial espionage no matter where it comes from.
"We are for the protection of intellectual property," said Merkel, who led a large business delegation on her trip to China. Referring to industrial espionage, she said, "Germany does not believe that this is the way to success."
Chinese enterprises and Chinese-born employees of companies abroad have been implicated in a growing number of attempts to steal technology and other commercial secrets. Security researchers say Beijing tolerates such theft and in some cases actively encourages it.
The United States and other governments complain China's military, a leader in cyber warfare, steals foreign trade secrets to help the country's vast state-owned industrial sector.
Over the weekend, Germany's domestic intelligence chief was less diplomatic than Merkel, telling the newspaper Welt am Sonntag that Chinese intelligence agencies and the military target medium-sized German companies.
"Many medium-sized German companies are easy prey. They can often only poorly judge what their crown jewels are that the other side might be interested in," Hans-Georg Maassen was quoted as saying.
"They are up against a far too powerful enemy," he said. "The Chinese technical intelligence agency alone has more than 100,000 employees."
Merkel's visit to China was aimed at promoting trade with the Asian economic giant. After meeting with the Chinese premier, the chancellor hailed ties between the two countries.
China and Germany, the world's two 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 also signed agreements with Li that included a declaration that two new Volkswagen car plants will be built in China, a helicopter deal with Airbus and a cooperation agreement between German flag carrier Lufthansa and Air China.
Later Monday, she would meet with President Xi Jinping, who visited Germany in March and with Merkel oversaw the signing of deals including agreements for automakers Daimler AG and BMW AG to deepen ties with their Chinese partners.
"China-Germany relations are at their best in history," said China's official Xinhua News Agency on Sunday, "strongly underpinned by the pragmatic cooperation between the two economic heavyweights."
It pointed out that Germany is China's largest trading partner in Europe, while China is Germany's biggest in the Asia-Pacific region.
Negotiations with Iran to end its nuclear program and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine may also come up in Monday's discussions.
Both China and Germany are part of the six-nation group that is trying to thrash out a nuclear deal with Iran. Merkel has been a key figure in trying to reduce tensions in Ukraine and get Russia to cooperate.
Associated Press writer Louise Watt in Beijing and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.