Ending his three-nation tour of Asia, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has met with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing. A number of controversial issues were on the agenda.
The German government under Angela Merkel hopes to develop close ties with China
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Thursday the new government of Chancellor Angela Merkel hoped to develop closer ties with China.
"Germany's new government aims to push forward the existing wide-ranging and close cooperative relations between the two nations," Steinmeier told Chinese President Hu Jintao in a meeting Thursday, according to Xinhua news agency.
The meeting, in the Great Hall of the People, was the diplomatic highpoint of Steinmeier’s two-day visit to the Chinese capital, after previous stopovers in Japan and South Korea. The German foreign minister is the first Merkel cabinet member to travel to China. Merkel herself will be visiting China in May.
High-speed train question still unresolved
Germany would like to build a second Transrapid line in China
Hu told Steinmeier that Sino-German relations were "based on a firm political foundation" and he also hoped ties would expand, especially in economics and trade.
"China hopes to make common efforts with Germany to further develop and deepen comprehensive relations," Hu was quoted as saying.
Yet the problem of product and intellectual property piracy featured prominently in talks with President Hu, veering unexpectedly into the limelight after China said last week that it had developed its own version of Germany’s Transrapid high-speed magnetic levitation train. Beijing claims it has not used patented German technology. Germany is hoping to participate in a new Transrapid line from Shanghai to Hanzhou.
"The president said that extending the Transrapid line was viewed very positively in the government, but that no final decision had been made," Steinmeier said.
Human rights still a concern
Steinmeier touched upon several controversial issues with his Chinese colleagues
Steinmeier also said his visit with Hu was meant to underscore the continuation of Germany’s close relationship to China. He announced that there would be a round of scientific discussions to draft a formal Sino-German partnership accord.
Steinmeier tackled a touchy subject, saying Germans were concerned about China’s human rights record. Referring to licensing deals by the web search engines, Google and Yahoo, to block certain content, the foreign minister said the issue of Internet censorship was a big concern. But, Gu Xuewu, a Chinese political science professor at Bochum University in Germany, was skeptical about whether Beijing would let outsiders influence its policies.
"I don’t think the Chinese would ever allow the Germans to interfere," Gu said.
"They know German leaders have to mention human rights when they visit because of the public back home, but I have my doubts that German efforts to raise the issue will have any effect on China."
Chinese president Hu Jintao
On the subject of Iran and its controversial nuclear program, Chinese leaders said there was still room to resolve the dispute within the International Atomic Energy Agency and appealed for more negotiations. The IAEA meets on March 6 to discuss the standoff. China is one of Iran’s biggest oil export markets.
In an apparent change of policy, however, Steinmeier told Hu that Germany would no longer be taking the lead, as former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder had done, in prodding the European Union to scrap its weapons embargo against China. That embargo was imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre in Beijing.
The two sides agreed that Angela Merkel would pay her first visit to China as German chancellor in May. Her spokesman in Berlin said on Thursday that the visit would take place from May 21-23.
Schröder visited China six times in his seven years in office, normally accompanied by a large delegation of German business executives.
China to help with Iran
In a separate development, China announced it would send its deputy foreign minister to Tehran on Friday to discuss the crisis over Iran's nuclear program.
Li Guozeng will visit for three days to discuss the nuclear issue and other issues of interest to the two countries, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told journalists at a regular
briefing on Thursday.
"This is a working visit to Iran for political consultations between the two foreign ministries," Liu said.
"He will make an exchange of views with Iran on bilateral relations, the nuclear issue and other issues of common interest."
As a veto-wielding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China's role in the Iranian nuclear crisis is crucial.