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German president 'understands' China COVID protests

Farah Bahgat
November 28, 2022

In a DW interview, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he hoped Chinese authorities would "respect" the protesters' freedom, and expressed that he did not see a way out of Russia's war on Ukraine "at this point in time."

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an interview with Deutsche Welle
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke with DW's Rosalia Romaniec in the Bellevue Palace in BerlinImage: Liesa Johannssen/Bundesregierung

German president: Respect freedom of expression

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in an interview with DW on Monday that he was moved by images of the current protests in China

"We all remember our own fight against the coronavirus, against the pandemic, and we still remember how much of a burden that was for many in Germany," Steinmeier told DW's Rosalia Romaniec at his official residence, Bellevue Palace in Berlin.

"We can only wonder what a burden it must be for the people of China, where measures are far stricter and longer-reaching, even today. So I understand why people want to voice their impatience and grievance on the streets."

Demonstrators have taken to the streets across major Chinese cities to protest the country's strict COVID curbs in a rare sign of public defiance.

Chinese authorities have so far tried to quell the demonstrations, with reports of police arresting protesters in some cities. 

"As a democrat, I can only say that the freedom to express one's own opinion freely is important, and I can only hope that authorities in China respect the right to freedom of expression and the freedom to demonstrate. And of course, I hope that the demonstrations remain peaceful," Steinmeier continued. 

Steinmeier rebuffs calls for Ukraine cease-fire

As the war rages in Ukraine, some Western officials have insisted that a cease-fire may be the only way to end the fighting. But Steinmeier described any suggestion of a truce now as "reckless."

"Because to establish a cease-fire at this point in time would essentially condone all of the injustice that has already taken place," he said.

With Russian forces still occupying parts of Ukraine, a truce now would allow Moscow to maintain its presence in these territories despite it being a violation of international law, he said. "That cannot be the aim of a cease-fire."

"So, sadly, I cannot say that I see any way out [of the war] at this point in time," Steinmeier added. 

Kherson residents describe torture under Russian occupation

War in Ukraine forced Germany to rethink its policies

On Germany's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and providing support for Kyiv, the German president said there had been a lot of "rethinking" in German policy. 

Berlin was strongly criticized for its initial refusal to provide Ukraine with weapons. But in a major policy U-turn, the German government has increased its military spending and started sending defense equipment to Ukraine. 

Steinmeier said the German government and population came to understand that the war in Ukraine meant that European security was no longer guaranteed.

Kyiv had also condemned the ties of some German officials to Moscow. Steinmeier himself was disinvited by the Ukrainian government when he was planning on visiting Ukraine in April. Kyiv cited a Russian-friendly stance in recent years as the reason.

The tension was later resolved and Steinmeier visited the Ukrainian capital in October. The German president previously admitted to making mistakes over policy toward Russia. 

"I've been to Ukraine as you know, and I can say the criticism that was being leveled against Germany over arms support has subsided and there is instead a great deal of appreciation today," he said.

Germany must continue to help Ukrainians through the coming winter months due to continued attacks that are part of Russia's strategy "to hit the civilian population, to grind down the entire country," Steinmeier said.

Is Russia targeting Ukraine's hospitals?

What else did Steinmeier say?

The German president condemned nuclear threats by Moscow, saying they were "unjustified" and "unbearable."

He also hailed the German parliament for proposing to declare the Holodomor a "genocide." 

"We must remember that it was the people of Ukraine who were the victims of that catastrophic famine. And the catastrophic famine was not the result of failed harvests [...] but rather, was a targeted strategy by the Stalin regime in 1932/33 to starve parts of the population of the then Soviet Union in order to make them pliable," he said.

Steinmeier also said his planned trip to North Macedonia and Albania later this week is meant to signal that the Western Balkans were "not forgotten." 

The Western Balkan countries have been seeking accession to the European Union for years. And now, some in those countries have raised fears that the EU was more focused on fast-tracking Ukraine's application.

Steinmeier stressed that if they achieve the necessary domestic progress, the path toward EU membership will become "more manageable."

Interview conducted by: Rosalia Romaniec

Edited by: Rob Turner