Germany says it will talk trade as well as human rights with China's Wen Jiabao
China is a key trading and investment partner, especially given the European debt crisis. But German officials say they will address human rights during Premier Wen Jiabao's visit.
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China is one of Germany’s most important trading partners. It is also a powerful investor that could help some of Europe’s debt-stricken economies. And just before the start of the tour, China released the dissidents Ai Weiwei and Hu Jia, a move that is being interpreted in Berlin as a sign of goodwill on Beijing’s part.
“The Chinese have shown in the past that they have good timing for symbolic gestures,” says Eberhard Sandschneider of the German Institute for Foreign Affairs. “But let’s not forget that the charges against Ai Weiwei have not been dropped yet.”
Even if Mrs. Merkel decides to keep the tone at dinner cordial, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has already announced he would use Tuesday’s German-Chinese government consultations to bring up the issue of human rights in China. “It’s a fact that in spite of his release, Ai Weiwei is still under oppressive restrictions,” Mr. Westerwelle told German newspaper “Die Welt.” “In the past few months, we received a number of alarming and sad news concerning human rights in China. But compared to 15 years ago, the situation has improved.”
In April, German media quoted a personal letter in which Chancellor Merkel asked for Ai Weiwei – a popular artist in Germany, with a guest professorship at Berlin’s University of the Arts – to be set free. The chancellery denied the letter's existence, but did so conveniently late, after the news had spread.
Chinese susceptible to pressure? Probably not.
Professor Sandschneider counsels caution in ascribing the dissidents' release to German pressure. “Whoever believes that Chinese politics can be influenced by exerting pressure on Beijing is underestimating Chinese self-confidence,” he says. “We shouldn’t even try to link issues like trade and human rights. It’s counterproductive. It doesn’t mean we have to be silent, though.”