Rights, trade to dominate Germany-China talks

28th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Germany and China will hold their first joint cabinet meeting Tuesday and ink several lucrative business contracts, but human rights disputes were expected to cast a long shadow over the proceedings.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, Premier Wen Jiabao and a total of 23 ministers are to sign 22 state cooperation pacts while a business delegation agrees deals worth "several billion euros", a senior German government source said.

The globe's number two economy, China, and number four, Germany, have seen trade volume rise by leaps and bounds in recent years, to hit a record 130 billion euros ($184 billion) in 2010.

Wen arrived in Berlin late Monday from London where he and British Prime Minister David Cameron signed trade deals worth 1.6 billion euros while Wen brushed aside questions over Beijing's rights record.

The German-Chinese contracts, which both sides have agreed to keep under wraps until a press conference later Tuesday, are expected to involve cars, chemicals and aeronautics, said the German official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

While Berlin has rolled out the red carpet, starting with an informal dinner for Wen and his inner circle hosted by Merkel at a lakeside villa Monday, it insists it will not soft-pedal human rights concerns for the sake of commerce.

"Of course you cannot separate trade and development from the issue of human rights, the rule of law, civil rights and also freedom for art and culture," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told ZDF public television.

"If things are discussed in a face-saving, reasonable way, you can talk about everything, even the most difficult questions."

Germany welcomed the release of prominent Chinese dissident Hu Jia Sunday just days after outspoken artist Ai Weiwei returned home following nearly three months in police custody, amid a government crackdown on dissent.

Western nations including Germany had repeatedly called for Ai's immediate release.

But Berlin has expressed serious concerns about restrictions they have apparently been placed under including their freedom to speak to the media.

"I think you have to put the word 'release' in quotation marks," the German official said, while declining to comment about speculation that the end of their custody was timed for Wen's European tour.

Human Rights Watch urged Berlin to place the issue front-and-centre at the talks, saying that Ai's release showed "that political pressure on the Chinese government works."

Activists pledged to hit the streets during Wen's two-day stay.

A group called Tibet Initiative Deutschland said that while Merkel welcomes Wen to her chancellery with military honours, it would release 300 black balloons to call attention to the reported detention of 300 Buddhist monks from the Kirti monastery in Sichuan province.

Relations between China and Germany hit a low point in September 2007 when Merkel welcomed the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader whom Beijing brands a dangerous separatist.

Wen told reporters in London Monday that China would not accept "finger-wagging" over human rights.

On the first leg of his three-nation European tour, Wen promised officials in Hungary that China would continue to support its faltering economy, and pledged to similarly aid the eurozone as it is rocked by a debt crisis.

The German official said the issue of China buying more government bonds from debt-wracked countries was certain to be discussed.

Analysts estimate that China has already bought more than 40 billion euros of European assets this year but this has done little to curb the crisis.

The 22 state cooperation pacts to be signed by 13 Chinese and 10 German ministers are to cover deepening cooperation in areas including climate protection, energy efficiency, food safety, education and the arts.

Beyond bilateral issues, Merkel and Wen were to discuss international hot spots including North Korea, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Africa, Syria and Iran.

© 2011 AFP

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