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Germany

Fischer Frank With China

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, during a 10-day tour of Asia, admonished the Chinese government for not doing enough to improve its human rights record.

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Fischer met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao

In an unusually frank discussion of human rights, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on Thursday criticized what he saw as significant deficits in China's protection of human rights.

Although Fischer acknowledged the country had made progress since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, he also expressed misgivings over Beijing's use of he death penalty, administrative imprisonment for dissidents and "re-education programs."

"We note the progress made but also have major concerns about human rights in China," Fischer said after meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing.

The Chinese foreign minister dismissed the criticism at a press conference, saying his country did not need "lessons from the West." China has a huge population of more than 1.3 billion people, Li told reporters, "but China has great respect for each individual's human rights."

More freedom for Tibet

Joschka Fischer bei Li Zhaoxing in Peking

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing

Li (photo) thanked Fischer for German support of the "One China" policy against granting independence to Taiwan, which Chancellor Gerhard Schröder endorsed on his trip to Beijing late last year. At the same time, however, he rejected Fischer's calls for granting more religious and political freedom to Tibet.

The West's concerns about Tibet should not undermine Chinese authority in the region, Li replied after Fischer appealed to him to engage in peaceful dialogue with the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

The Chinese foreign minister accused the Dalai Lama of "subversive" activity that threatened to undermine Chinese sovereignty in Tibet. "That is unacceptable for us," he said.

Common ground

After exchanging sharp barbs on human rights, the two ministers moved on to more friendly ground and stressed common goals for their countries.

Germany is China's biggest trading partner in the European Union, and the two countries work closely together on the U.N. Security Council, Li stressed at the press conference. Fischer echoed this view saying the two countries had worked together in promoting greater "multilateralism" as opposed to "unilateralism" on global issues such as the recent Iraq war.China, which is one of five permanent members on the Security Council, said it backed a larger role for Germany at the United Nations including Berlin's bid for a permanent seat on the influential council. Currently, Germany holds one of 10 rotating seats, but Fischer's five-country tour through Asia is intended to drum up support for a reform of the council's make-up later this year.

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