Awkward moment as Merkel broaches human rights with China | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 28.06.2011
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Awkward moment as Merkel broaches human rights with China

Merkel walked a thin line on Tuesday as she attempted to support Germany's business interests in China, while ramping up the pressure on Beijing to improve its human rights record.

Wen Jiabao and Angela Merkel

Germany received Wen with the highest military honors

Despite both sides offering up lengthy paeans to the excellent relations between China and Germany, there was one awkward moment at Tuesday's joint press conference in Berlin.

Just as Chancellor Angela Merkel began to address the issue of human rights, the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao indicated he could no longer hear the translation. Wen jerked on his headphones several times, gesturing that he could no longer follow the Chancellor. It took Merkel a few false starts to express her happiness over the release of dissidents Hua Jia and Ai Weiwei.

Human Rights on the Agenda

"What's important now is that there is a transparent procedure for Ai Weiwei," Merkel said of the internationally acclaimed artist, imprisoned for two and a half months at an undisclosed location on charges of tax evasion.

Activist artist Ai Weiwei speaks to journalists gathered outside his home

Activist artist Ai Weiwei returned home late Wednesday

"On some issues, we still have a long road ahead of us," Merkel said, citing "the implementation of constitutional procedures" and "better working conditions for foreign journalists in China" as examples.

Economic relations take center stage

The temporary silence in Wen's headphones may have only been a technical breakdown, but the scene had a certain symbolic value. Wen has visited Germany five times already, and each time Berlin's attempts to address issues such as the need for increased freedom of speech fall on deaf ears. The Chinese government regards such remarks as interference in the internal affairs of the country.

Angela Merkel and Wen Jiabao walk on a red carpet

Berlin and Beijing differ on human rights, but both are eager to forge economic deals

So the results of the first meeting between the two cabinets centered primarily on agreements in trade, technology and science.

"What impresses me is the highly developed German economy," Wen said - as his delegation placed large orders for German products. The carmakers Volkswagen and Daimler and the chemical company BASF got the green light to build new plants in China.

"We have great confidence in the euro," Wen said, despite its current weakness. He promised that China would help Europe overcome these difficulties by buying government bonds.

"In the markets, confidence is more important than gold," added Wen - a sentiment that also neatly summarized the the first Sino-German intergovernmental consultations.

Author: Nina Werkhäuser / smh
Editor: Michael Lawton

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