German business leaders hope to initiate deals worth billions as they accompany Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to China. The three-day visit begins Monday. Human rights, some fear, will not get enough attention.
A warm welcome for an "old friend of China."
Liu Di is bound to remember Schröder’s trip to her country. Along with two others, the 23-year-old student was released from prison prior to the chancellor’s arrival. Liu, who became known under her chat-room nickname, “stainless-steel mouse,” had been jailed for a year for criticizing the government’s restrictions on Internet use.
Representatives from the information center for human rights and democracy in Hong Kong called the release “a present for Schröder,” but warned about forgetting other dissidents who remain behind bars.
Chinese dissident Liu Di was released prior to Schröder's visit.
Human rights low on the agenda
Althougth the protection of human rights is expressly mentioned in a German-Chinese accord expected to be signed on Monday, Schröder does not plan to discuss human rights with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, according to news reports.
While the chancellor is slated to focus on business during his talks with Hu and Wen, both of whom he hasn’t met since they ascended to their current positions, German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries will be responsible for plans to extend the German-Chinese dialogue on the constitutional state for another two years.
The German government views the dialogue as the most effective form for discussing human rights. However, during this trip, Zypries is expected to spend more time focusing on patent protection and procedural law.
Despite failing to fulfil a central criteria for German development aid by violating human rights, China has been the main recipient of financial help from Germany for years.
Germany’s top trading partner in Asia
The chancellor's main purpose in touring China is to promote business ties between the two countries, as the list of Schröder’s travel companions shows: It includes the chief executives of Siemens, Commerzbank and the travel giant TUI.
Economic relations between Germany and China are flourishing. German exports to China doubled during the first half of 2003. While China has replaced Japan as Germany’s most important trade partner in Asia, Germany has become the biggest European investor there.
Opening a joint venture between TUI and China Travel Service, the first Chinese travel agency that’s majority foreign owned, Schröder jokingly said he expected every Chinese person to visit Germany. “And the way we Germans are, we’ll figure out how to deal with the logistics,” Schröder said, referring to China’s population of 1.3 billion.
Venturing into new territory for business
After meeting Chinese leaders in Beijing, Schröder plans to explore new territory on his fifth visit to the country since 1999.
He will travel to an automobile exhibition in Guanzhou (Canton) and continue on to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. Situated in southwestern China and bordering Tibet, Sichuan has a population of 85 million, roughly the same as Germany.
Former Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder travel in Shanghai's German-built magnetic levitation train during Schröder's visit last year.
Chengdu has become known as the “gate to the West.” German companies want to use the city as a base to venture into new markets in less developed regions of China. A German consulate, which will open soon here, is expected to help in that respect.
Germany’s business sector could lend a hand in developing the region, similar to the economic boost it created when it supported the building of a modern auto industry in China decades ago.