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German Press Review: "German Weapons for the Red Mandarins"

German newspapers commented on Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s visit to China and his controversial calls for lifting a weapons embargo and offering to sell a plutonium plant.

In Berlin, the conservative-oriented Die Welt spared no amount of sarcasm in praising Schröder’s sudden outpouring of generosity. "German weapons for the red mandarins? Certainly, after all, the embargo is costing us jobs," the paper waxed. "German plutonium technology to the Middle Kingdom? Why not – the red-green anti-nuclear consensus is just domestic folklore anyway. One China with Taiwan under the flag of the red dragon? Go right ahead," the editorial sneered. The signals coming back from Schröder’s sales tour of China are unmistakable," the paper concluded: "You can make my life a misery at home by moaning about economic crisis and social reforms -- but just let me off the hook and see me sweep aside all moral and political export barriers."

Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung also described good business relations with China as Schröder’s top priority. It criticized him for brushing aside concerns about Beijing’s human rights record. The paper commented that Schröder has failed to understand that respect for human rights is a precondition for long-term investment; and it warned that any country that fails this test remains potentially unstable.

"Travel broadens the mind," declared Berlin’s Tagesspiegel, and added that Chancellor Schröder has clearly learned a great deal. "He’s discovered what he calls a ‘new China,’ and that seems to be reason enough to drop the arms embargo," the paper sighed sarcastically. Although the majority of Chinese have more freedom now than they used to, the paper noted, the rights of certain individuals are still greatly abused. It cited the persecution of Falun Gong followers, as well as of the people in Tibet and Xinjiang. If the chancellor pushes human rights issues and China’s threatening behavior towards Taiwan onto the sidelines, both he and his China policy will lose all credibility, the paper warned.

But some of the smaller papers ventured to offer the chancellor some muted support. Dodging the deeper moral issues, the Nordbayerischer Kurier from Bayreuth said that Schröder’s decision to visit China every year was a clever one. Greater cooperation is good for both sides, it maintained. China needs the innovation and skills the West can provide, while Germany needs hungry new markets to encourage growth.

Looking at the proposal to export the unused plutonium factory in Hanau, the Badische Neueste Nachrichten from Karlsruhe remarked that Schröder is not entirely in the wrong. Since the controversial plant is not an arms project in the conventional sense, it will hardly be possible to prevent it from being sold to China, the paper explained.

The eastern German Märkische Oderzeitung agreed. It argued that those in favor of nuclear energy will be annoyed that the technology will only be used abroad, while Green politicians will be annoyed at the moral loophole in the German decision to opt out of nuclear power altogether. But as far as doubts about its usage are concerned, the paper noted that Beijing is already officially recognized as a nuclear power, and doesn’t need German help to obtain weapons-grade plutonium.

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