Germany to take up rights issue with Wen: minister

26th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Germany will press human rights issues at its first joint cabinet meeting with China this week, including the conditions of artist Ai Weiwei's release, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Sunday.

He told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that hopes for stronger economic ties with the world's number two economy did not preclude a frank discussion with Premier Wen Jiabao and his ministers.

"The quality and depth of our relations allows us to talk about difficult topics," Westerwelle said, pledging to underline "how important freedom of expression, media freedoms and respect for human rights are to us."

He said he would take up in particular the case of Ai, who was freed Wednesday after nearly three months in jail on tax evasion charges, followed by the release of dissident Hu Jia Sunday.

Ai's detention -- which came during a major government crackdown on activists launched in February -- sparked furious criticism led by Western governments including Germany which repeatedly urged his immediate release.

However his bail conditions prevent him from leaving Beijing and he has told foreign media that he cannot accept interviews.

"Despite the relief that Ai Weiwei is back with his family, the fact remains that his freedom is still marred by oppressive restrictions," Westerwelle said.

He added that he hoped Ai would soon be able to take up an invitation extended in April by Berlin's University of the Arts as a guest professor.

Westerwelle said that with bilateral trade at a volume of more than 130 billion euros ($185 billion) in 2010, economic ties had seen "phenomenal" development.

But he insisted Germany would not soft-pedal its human rights message in the interest of further growth.

"Change also comes via trade," he said. "This is not a contradiction. This is an expression of foreign policy driven by values and interests."

Wen, who is on a three-country tour of Europe, will arrive in Germany from Britain Monday with 13 ministers and a large business delegation.

He will meet Chancellor Angela Merkel for a working dinner in Berlin followed by a joint cabinet meeting Tuesday and a press conference where lucrative contracts are expected to be signed.

© 2011 AFP

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