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Opinion: Schröder Makes a Questionable Push for China

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder spoke out in favor of lifting the European weapon embargo against China during his visit to Beijing. Should the nuclear power really be supplied with European weapons?

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German weapons and plutonium could be headed for China, if Chancellor Schröder has his way.

At least, German business can't complain about Gerhard Schröder's engagement when it comes to China. During his visit there, the chancellor has tirelessly endeavored to open new doors and promote economic cooperation between the two countries. And, above all, he has done it very adroitly and presented himself to his Chinese interlocutors as a charismatic pragmatist with a strategic vision. China's government leaders like such movers and shakers -- especially when they have predominantly pleasant messages to relay.

Which is why it's clear that German businessmen and women will be grateful for the chancellor's engagement in China, as will the German population presumably too. For given Germany's crippled economy, everything has been well received that promised economic success. And the People's Republic of China, with its 1.3 billion citizens, is an ideal venue for high-flying fantasies about capturing markets.

But Schröder overshoots the target when he assures his Chinese partners that he will work within the EU to lift the European weapon embargo against Beijing. China is a different country than it was in 1989 when the students protests were violently suppressed -- the chancellor is right about that. The country is continually modernizing, and people profit from freedoms that were unthinkable just ten years ago on a daily basis.

No significant progress in civil rights

However, a brief glance at reports from human rights organizations like Amnesty International could have demonstrated to Schröder that in the sensitive area of civil rights Beijing has still not made any significant progress. There is still no freedom of political expression in China. Time and again there are politically-motivated arrests, most recently of Internet dissidents. And the death penalty still exists. Last year alone more than 1,000 people were sentenced to death.

European weapons against Taiwan?

Schröder's push for the weapons embargo to be lifted is questionable in a further regard: The People's Republic continues to view Taiwan as a renegade province and threatens to respond to a declaration of independence on the part of the island with the force of arms.

It is a relief that Schröder does not want to begin supplying arms to Taiwan, as he assured the Chinese. But why on earth would he want to supply them to Beijing? It is incomprehensible that of all things European weapons should have to underpin China's militaristic threats against Taiwan.

As if in justification, Schröder said that the Germans too know what it's like to live in a divided country. He must have misunderstood something. There is one essential difference to the German situation: Taiwan is by far more democratic today than the Chinese mainland. Nor is it unimportant that West Germany never tried to impose reunification with the force of arms.

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