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Europe

German Press Review: President Criticizes China

German newspapers on Monday focused on statements by German President Johannes on human rights in China and the bomb threats in Düsseldorf airport, which shut down flights for several hours.

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German President Johannes Rau and Chinese President Hu Jintao

Johannes Rau, who is currently on a state visit to China, received applause from the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich for doing what few German politicians before him have dared to do, namely criticize China’s human rights record. "For a long time, people have been waiting for a German politician to come out and state the obvious about China. And Rau did it in clever way: he praised China’s progress at the same time, and even dared to quote Confucius. But the speech isn’t going to make waves in China, because the Chinese public will never hear it. Rau only gave the speech at the University of Nanjing. It wasn’t broadcast on Chinese television. And all the words with impact will be censured out of the newspapers. But the leaders in Beijing will be studying it."

The Badische Zeitung praised Rau’s visit to China. The newspaper commented, "Rau proved again that he’s a good president who builds bridges, because he can be persuasive and conciliatory in tone. He also showed that the office of the president isn’t as powerless as people say it is. Rau was able to make this speech exactly because he can keep a distance from daily politics."

Looking back at Rau’s decision not to run again for German president, Die Welt wrote, "The trip to China made the case for the non-partisanship of the president. Rau won this non-partisanship himself by deciding not to run again. So from that we can deduce that the president would be more effective if he didn’t have to campaign for office again, but had a longer term instead, maybe seven years. Then he wouldn’t have to take party interests into account. Rau definitely set a standard for the presidency, showing what the office is all about: freedom, clarity, and dignity."

In other news the series of bomb threats at Düsseldorf’s Airport over the weekend caused several flights to be cancelled and forced waiting passengers to evacuate the building. The Westdeutsche Zeitung noted, "We are helplessly exposed to the psychological terrorists. They’re the arsonists of the society based around media. With a few threats at the right time and at the right place they hit right at our core, and can immediately hear all about their misguided fantasies of power on radio and television."

The Westfälische Rundschau second guessed the decision to evacuate the terminal at Düsseldorf Airport, arguing, "We don’t know what caused the authorities to take the telephone threats seriously. But they shouldn’t give the callers the feeling of power, that with relatively little effort they can cause a huge commotion."