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German Press Review: Can 50 Million Euros Soothe the Conscience?

German editorialists dished out some harsh criticism of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s call for a lifting of the EU arms embargo on China. They also weighed in on the CDU party conference in Leipzig.

"A Chinese proverb warns anyone who plans to ride a tiger to consider carefully where he wants to get off. Clearly this is not a saying with which Chancellor Schröder is familiar," stated the Handelsblatt in Düsseldorf, otherwise he wouldn’t have spoken out so thoughtlessly and unnecessarily in favor of European arms exports to China. Do we really want to supply tanks to a regime that’s still suppressing its national minorities, the paper asked. Do we want to provide Eurofighter jets to a regional power that’s still threatening to invade Taiwan? According to the financial daily, the answer to both questions can only be no.

The Frankfurter Rundschau focused on Schröder’s announcement that Germany and China are discussing the sale of an unused German plutonium reprocessing facility. How on earth, the paper wondered, can Schröder construct a valid moral argument for exporting nuclear technology that’s been vehemently rejected at home? The paper pointed out that the facility would aid China in manufacturing large quantities of weapons-grade plutonium. Any hope that Germany could impose conditions on how the facility should be used would be extremely naive, the paper concluded.

The Kieler Nachrichten was horrified over Schröder’s announcement. The red-green government hopes an estimated 50 million euros will soothe its conscience, if it still has one, the paper opined. The northern German daily highlighted accusations by human rights groups that executions, torture and disappearances are still common practice in China. It commented that if the new German foreign policy is to provide this aspiring power in a geo-strategically unstable region with a factory capable of producing the basic material for atomic bombs, we have reason to be very afraid.

Most German papers also analyzed the party conference of Germany’s conservative opposition CDU in Leipzig – and all agreed that it marks a turning point, certainly in the fortunes of the party leader, Angela Merkel. The Christian Democrats Union is a different party after this conference, suggested the Mannheimer Morgen. Angela Merkel forced her party to engage in painful debate. She aims to offer voters a clear, solid alternative to the red-green policy of Chancellor Schröder, the paper wrote, concluding that she has succeeded.

According to Die Welt in Berlin, Merkel’s powerful performance put to rest the ongoing doubts over her leadership qualities and over her potential challengers. "The CDU wants to have a clear leader again," the paper said, "and now we finally know exactly who that is."

The Berliner Zeitung also praised Merkel, saying that at this party conference she not only demonstrated that the CDU is electable, but also why she wants to be in government. The paper commentd that for Chancellor Schröder, the results of both the CDU’s successful conference and his own, which was considerably less so, are not encouraging. Right now, it surmized, we have a weak government and a strong opposition. "Lucky for Schröder there’s still another three years until the next election."

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