Chinese premier Wen Jiabao was wearing an open shirt and Merkel found the time and the opportunity to talk to Chinese tai chi enthusiasts in the park: a photo op of the first order in Merkel’s 38-hour “blitz” visit to China in which trade and economy topped the agenda – but Iran found a place as well. Nor did Merkel fail to address the thorny issues of religious freedom and human rights.
Angela Merkel about to board the Shanghai Transrapid on May 23, 2006
Merkel has been twice to Washington and twice to Moscow since assuming the chancellor’s office, so China was very much on the cards. And the Chinese did not want to wait till the summer was over.
One of the unwritten laws of German politics is that governments might change, but German foreign policy carries on regardless, especially where China is concerned. And still Merkel managed to demonstrate her individual style - and not just by strolling in the park.
Eleven years ago Helmut Kohl – the chancellor at the time – was found visiting a unit of the Chinese army which had been directly involved in suppressing the pro-democracy movement of 1989.
His successor Gerhard Schröder was all for removing the EU arms embargo against China.
Merkel, however, shied away from neither human rights nor product piracy, when it came to doing a bit of straight talking in Beijing.
One heard Merkel raising her concerns over China’s curbs on Internet and the situation in Tibet. But her assessment of the human rights situation in China was cautiously optimistic: “I think the Chinese government listens very carefully to the topic of human rights,” Merkel said. Her principles thereby were very clear: “We have to be speaking the same language both at home and in China when it comes to human rights.”
In any case: “It’s an important issue of bilateral dialogue,” Merkel told the press after her talks in the Great Hall of the People. She did not say whether she had brought up any specific human rights cases, but added that she had “made it clear that human rights are indivisible”.
She also met the bishop of Shanghai on Tuesday, the last day of her visit. Aloysius Jin Luxian has turned 90 and is not recognized as a bishop by the Vatican, since his Chinese Catholic church is government-backed. But Jin had been in Chinese jails and forced re-education camps, as he recounted to Merkel. “The meeting was moving,” Merkel said later.
As regards Iran, Merkel and Wen announced after their discussions that Germany and China had agreed that Iran should not be allowed to build nuclear weapons. However, there was no mention of any progress regarding the action to be taken.
Deals on intellectual property rights, telecommunications and other sectors had already been signed on Monday. The most exciting was perhaps a deal according to which Germany’s Siemens, China’s railway ministry and the CSR Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive would work together to build 500 trains for China – a deal possibly worth some 300 million euros to Siemens.
After all, Merkel had a 40-strong delegation of German business leaders with her, apart from Economy Minister Michael Glos. This was again in the tradition of past chancellor’s visits, except for the fact that product piracy, that chronic irritant in bilateral trade, was finally given its due importance as well as the due voice.
As Merkel told the fourth meeting of the High Technology Dialogue attended by over 300 German and Chinese business and industry representatives: “Because we are technological leaders in many areas, protection of intellectual property is crucial to our success.” She added that she had observed “with great interest the rise in China’s technological capacities. That should give China a higher stake in effectively protecting intellectual property.”
Chinese premier Wen Jiabao conceded that there were still “many problems” in the area, but that his government was considering both “administrative” and “judicial” measures to protect proprietary information.
This assurance was needed, because many of the outstanding problems in bilateral trade relations as well as China’s trade relations with the EU - from product piracy to anti-dumping - originate from the same source.
China and Germany signed an accord banning Chinese garment manufacturers who use counterfeit fabrics – but only from taking part in German trade exhibitions and fashion shows.
The Maglev connection
And the hurdle can turn into a stumbling block, when it comes to the Maglev extension, for example.
The ThyssenKrupp AG and Siemens consortium built the magnetically levitated or Maglev train from Shanghai’s Pudong airport to the city, the only such space-age commercial rail in the world. The trains cover those 30 kilometers at speeds over 430 kmph.
Last March there was a preliminary deal between China and Germany to extend the current Maglev line to the neighbouring city of Hangzhou – a distance of 170 kilometers with costs surpassing $4 billion.
China was hoping to clinch the deal during Merkel’s visit, but the Germans are thinking twice about the technology transfers demanded by China.