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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany and China vowed on Thursday to expand their partnership and pledged to continue fighting climate change, sending a signal to Washington hours before U.S. President Donald Trump announces if he will quit a global climate deal.
Berlin was the first stop in Europe for Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, amid growing concern in Germany over some of Trump's policies, especially on climate change and protectionism. He was due to head later for Brussels.
"China has become a more important and strategic partner," Merkel said at a news conference with Li, pointing to political, economic, social and cultural ties.
"We are living in times of global uncertainty and see our responsibility to expand our partnership in all the different areas and to push for a world order based on law," she said.
The two held wide-ranging talks on issues from trade, civil rights, the North Korea crisis and climate change and a multitude of business deals were signed.
"We are both ready to contribute to stability in the world,"
As the world awaits Trump's decision on climate change after he denounced the Paris pact in his 2016 presidential campaign, Li said China was committed to tackling the issue, both via the Paris Agreement and by setting national targets.
"China will stand by its responsibilities on climate change," he told reporters in Berlin.
European and Canadian officials have warned Trump that the U.S. risks ceding global leadership on combating climate change to China, if it withdraws from the Paris accord.
Merkel vented her frustration with Trump on Sunday after what she described as unsatisfactory talks of G7 leaders, saying Germany and Europe could no longer totally rely on traditional allies. Since then she has hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as Li.
Merkel said she wanted quick progress on an EU-China investment deal and that this would be a precondition to any free trade talks, a move Li said would be timely.
With bilateral trade of 170 billion euros last year, China was Germany's most important trading partner, said Merkel.
"These are impressive figures and we both said we want to extend this," said Merkel, adding the signing of business agreements pointed to future cooperation in cars, aviation technology, recycling and artificial intelligence.
Among the deals signed was one between Daimler and joint venture partner BAIC Motor Corporation on upgrading a Mercedes-Benz factory in Beijing for electric cars.
Li said he believed they two had found a solution on the issue of Chinese quotas for electric cars after a lengthy discussion.
However, thorny issues remain between the two exporting nations, with Merkel saying she had pressed China to open up its market more to German firms who want a level playing field.
"We need fair market access ... and it's very important to protect intellectual property and ensure trade and business secrets are kept and of course in times of cyber possibilities that's not always easy," said Merkel at a business event later.
Merkel also tackled civil rights, saying she and Li had resolved the issue of German political foundations working in China which she said were crucial for a stronger civil society.
"We believe our political foundations make an important contribution and I am pleased that all our bureaus in China can be registered and hope they can resume work," she said.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Emma Thomasson, Andreas Rinke and Michelle Martin; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Tom Heneghan