BEIJING - Chinese President Hu Jintao praised the state of relations with Germany during a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, suggesting ties between the economic powers had been repaired since a spat over the Dalai Lama last year.
Merkel is making her first visit to China since she received the Tibetan spiritual leader at her office in Berlin in September 2007 _ a decision that infuriated Beijing and led to several months of cool relations.
"I believe that the most important thing is dialogue," Merkel said during her meeting with Hu on Friday.
"I have again stated very clearly that a meeting with the Dalai Lama is a meeting about cultural autonomy," she said. "I believe we have come one step closer to mutual understanding."
Hu said improvements in the relationship were "hard-earned and should be treasured by both sides," the official Xinhua News Agency reported, without mentioning the Tibetan spiritual leader.
China routinely criticizes visits abroad by the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet for India in 1959 during a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He is frequently demonized by China's Communist leadership, who accuse him of trying to split the region of Tibet from the rest of China.
The Dalai Lama has said repeatedly he is seeking greater autonomy for the Himalayan region, not independence.
Merkel is among dozens of foreign leaders attending a summit of 43 Asian and European nations being held in the Chinese capital, where the global financial crisis will be the major topic of discussion.
Hu noted that economic and trade ties between Germany and China were expanding rapidly despite the world financial slowdown, Xinhua reported.
China is the largest trading partner of the European Union, and the EU is China's second-largest trading partner. Germany is the largest economy within the 27-nation bloc.
Merkel, who took power in 2005, has raised human rights publicly during her trips to China, in contrast to her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, whom opponents accused of soft-pedaling the issue in favor of commercial interests.
Associated Press writer Michael Fischer in Beijing contributed to this report.