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Strong Ultimatum

DW staff (sp)
March 20, 2008

In a fresh blow to Berlin-Beijing relations, Germany has said it is freezing aid talks with the Chinese government as a result of China's crackdown on demonstrations in Tibet.

Tibetan demonstrators in Switzerland
Tibetans rallied in Switzerland this week to call an end to killingsImage: AP

Germany said it was suspending intergovernmental aid talks with China if the country did not end a bloody clampdown on Tibetan protestors, raising the stakes in a highly charged international conundrum over how to deal with Beijing's rights violations months before the city hosts the Olympic Games.

German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul said on Wednesday, March 19, that her ministry would suspend negotiations with the Chinese government which mainly involve grants to reduce air pollution by Chinese power plants.

"Violence can never be a solution," Wieczorek-Zeul said. "The two sides can only arrive at a solution through dialogue. Under such conditions, it is hardly conceivable to be conducting intergovernmental negotiations," she said.

Fresh blow

The move marks a fresh upset in Berlin-Beijing relations, which had only recently been patched up after Chinese anger at Chancellor Angela Merkel receiving the Dalai Lama in her office in September last year.

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul
Wieczorek-Zeul says talks will be suspended until the violence endsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Government level talks between Berlin and Beijing, scheduled to start in May, would not begin until the violence has stopped, Wieczorek-Zeul said. The minister last year oversaw talks last year that led to total grants of 67.5 million euros ($105 million), her aides said.

These were mainly paid out to Chinese companies operating dirty electricity plants. Berlin said it offered the help because China had the world's second-largest emissions of carbon dioxide and was the world's worst sulphur-dioxide polluter.

Wieczorek-Zeul said separate talks going back several years between Germany and China on improving the rule of law would continue.

The Chinese crackdown in Tibet and nearby provinces, following riots that may have killed dozens of people, have sparked calls for a boycott of the August Beijing Games that China wants to turn into a celebration of its emergence as a world power.

"Unspeakable language"

Beijing has blamed Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, for the monk-led protests and rioting -- the most serious in the Himalayan region for nearly two decades -- to try to wreck the Aug. 8-24 Games.

The Dalai Lama insists he only wants greater autonomy for his homeland, not independence from China. His government-in-exile says 99 people died when Chinese security forces moved to quell the riot.

Dalai Lama with Merkel
The Dalai Lama, seen here with Chancellor Merkel, is well respected in Western capitalsImage: AP

On Wednesday, China stepped up its criticism of the Dalai Lama with Tibet's Communist Party secretary, Zhang Qingli, telling a teleconference of regional officials: "We are engaged in a fierce battle of blood and fire with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death struggle between the foe and us."

The harsh rhetoric has raised hackles in the West where the Tibetan spiritual leader is usually welcomed by governments.

Germany's human rights commissioner, Guenther Nooke said it had to be made clear to the Chinese government that it had no chance of getting away with such words.

"The language used by the Chinese government is unspeakable," Nooke said in an interview with German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "The vocabulary of the Chinese Cultural Revolution is being used here again. That scares me. We shouldn't allow a country like China to get away with it."

In Rome, Pope Benedict broke his silence on Tibet on Wednesday, calling for dialog to end "suffering" there.

"Violence does not solve problems, but only aggravates them," he said at the end of his weekly general audience, adding that he was following events in Tibet "with trepidation."

In a move almost certain to irritate Beijing, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he would meet the Dalai Lama during a visit to Britain expected in May.

Calls for economic pressure

Amid heated debates in Europe about whether to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in August to register protest against China's stance in Tibet, the European Union has been urged to send a mission to Beijing to demand an explanation to the Tibet crisis.

Germany's opposition Green party also want the EU to raise economic pressure on China.

"China's economy is dependent on the transfer of technology," Volker Beck, a Green party leader, told daily Berliner Zeitung. "This is where the EU should see whether it can raise the pressure if the situation in Tibet doesn't improve."