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Wen spreads China's billions in Europe but can't buy goodwill

On tour through Europe, which ended today in Germany, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao inked deals worth billions, but also faced questions on human rights abuses.

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“But it is still frustrating for the Chinese that have worked hard and put much effort into trying to understand the West and Europe, and then to be asked only about human rights. The phrase ‘human rights’ has become ideological," he says.

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It has been a difficult year for China’s image abroad as Beijing continues to pursue a more assertive or even hard-line policy in its neighborhood and abroad.

After nearly a decade of describing its policy in Asia as one of a “peaceful rise,” China has been throwing elbows and making threatening gestures. A year of decisions in Beijing have raised eyebrows around the world.

China decided to keep writer and activist Liu Xiaobo incommunicado and in prison during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in his honor. It has raised tensions with Vietnam over rights in the South China Sea, and has done little as North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has nuclearized the Korean peninsula.

“Just as June 4 [1989] in Beijing ended many illusions about the nature of the Communist Party of China, so events of the past year have stripped away many illusions about the country’s ‘peaceful rise,’” says respected Asian columnist Philip Bowring in Hong Kong. “No longer does the region assume that peace is a given and Chinese economic growth will not create other problems. Instead, the focus is on managing conflicts and attempting to allay mutual suspicions through dialogue.”

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