President Koehler: a quiet rights advocate

25th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

25 May 2007, Beijing (dpa) - Horst Koehler was visibly relieved. He was almost euphoric as the German President drew positive conclusions about his "very good talks" with China's leadership in Beijing. Somehow, Koehler managed to circumvent the minefield in which the issue of human rights had threatened to overshadow his visit, so that at the end, he was back in his element - advocating expanded cooperation with the world's most populous country in the field of environmental and resource protection. And, h

25 May 2007

Beijing (dpa) - Horst Koehler was visibly relieved. He was almost euphoric as the German President drew positive conclusions about his "very good talks" with China's leadership in Beijing.

Somehow, Koehler managed to circumvent the minefield in which the issue of human rights had threatened to overshadow his visit, so that at the end, he was back in his element - advocating expanded cooperation with the world's most populous country in the field of environmental and resource protection.

And, he reported, in this aspect he had found "open doors" in Beijing.

Koehler showed how impressed he was with China's new generation of leaders: "They are aware of the problems and challenges of this society and its giant population number of 1.3 billion such as I have experienced from no other leadership," said the man who had often visited China in the past in other functions.

"They are facing the problems and want to solve them," he added.

As the former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Koehler says his advice is being sought today in Beijing.

This was evident when State and Party Leader Hu Jintao used the occasion of the state banquet in the Great Hall to tap into Koehler's expertise. "It was noticeable how he (Hu) wanted to discuss with me in depth those problems he is itching to deal with," Koehler said.

Among others, the questions involved how to find adequate employment for hundreds of millions of rural residents, or how to overcome the gap between the poor western regions and the wealthier coastal population.

They had talked at length, Koehler said, about the rapid ageing of China's population and the effects of this on the pensions and insurance sectors. China's leaders were "almost desperate" in asking how such problems might be resolved.

However, German advice is not always welcome: the recent demand posed in a resolution by the German parliament for China to dismantle its labour camps was rejected as "intervention" by Beijing.

But during Koehler's state visit China's leadership consciously refrained from showing its irritation and did not bring the topic up. For his part, Koehler said he only followed the "broad" policy line.

On the one hand, he said he was astonished at how openly China's leaders discussed human rights, or more precisely, their differing interpretation of what is meant by human rights.

On the other hand, Koehler himself went easy about bringing up specific human rights issues with his discussion partners. This, he argued with a nod to the August visit to Beijing by Chancellor Angela Merkel, is anyway the job of the German government.

In this, Koehler's approach differed from that of his predecessor, Johannes Rau, who regarded the office of the presidency as one bearing a moral weight and who - the way Koehler did with environmental issues - made human rights in China a personal quest.

DPA

Subject: German news

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