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German Press Review: Candid in China

German editorials on Friday commented on the surprisingly critical words German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer found for the Chinese leaders during his visit to Beijing. He pinpointed ongoing human rights problems.

This was a warning signal, wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich. Fischer demonstrated that German foreign politics are more than business promotion. Of course Fischer’s remarks were meant to score points with the audience at home in Germany: He addressed- in public - all the sensitive issues Chancellor Schröder avoids: Taiwan, human rights and democracy in Hong Kong and he was right to do so. What we’d now like to see from him, said the paper, is to do all he can to prevent a lifting of the EU arms embargo.

But the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung feared that the German foreign minister will continue his two-faced approach to that issue. While he bravely criticized the Chinese leadership for human rights violations this does not translate into action, the paper wrote and added that Fischer's not had any problems in the past to take a more ambiguous stance on the issue of the arms embargo against China. But the daily conceded that Fischer’s trip to Beijing showed that it is possible to talk to the Chinese leadership without sparing out the issue of human rights – and despite the immediate harsh response from his Chinese counterpart there will be no lasting damage to bilateral relations.

"Long Overdue," was the headline of the editorial in the Frankfurter Rundschau. The paper went on to say that it wished Chancellor Schröder would have found such clear words during his visit half a year ago. Experts can now debate the fallout of this outspokenness the paper wrote – but it will most certainly contribute to one thing: The German foreign minister’s personal credibility.

Other papers turned to a different issue: The strict verdict handed down to the eldest son of late Bavarian state leader Franz Josef Strauss. He was sentenced to three years and three months in prison for tax fraud involving a controversial German-Canadian arms dealer.

“Everyone is equal before the law,” wrote the Mainpost from Würzburg. But it added that “it can well be that Max Strauss in fact believed that this basic principle didn’t apply to him – the son of Bavarian icon Franz Josef.” Since his conviction on Thursday he should know better, the paper stated, concluding: “The strict sentence against Max Strauss for tax fraud proves that not even in the state of Bavaria is there such a thing as a celebrity bonus.”

Die Welt in Berlin pointed out that the verdict has not provided an answer to one important question: “It is still unclear how corrupt Max Strauss really was.” For what exactly did he receive the payments, the paper asked, and “in what ways were political decisions influenced by the money?”

The Hamburger Abendblatt showed some sympathy for Max Strauss. For sure he didn’t have an easy youth, the paper wrote – “in the shadow of his dominant father and with all the expectations that he should follow in his father’s footsteps.” Still, socialization cannot explain everything, the paper said: “Even a Max Strauss should have known that tax fraud is illegal in Germany.”