Angela Merkel was to meet Xi Jinping on Thursday, her office’s website wrote earlier this week, referring to the state chairman and party secretary general as “president”. That’s routine in German federal and regional authorities’ contacts with China; party affiliations and roles are mostly ignored.
It was Merkel’s eighth visit to China, Xinhua newsagency informed statistics-obsessed readers. She first visited in August 1997, then as minister for environment protection and nuclear reactor safety. Visits as chancellor followed in May 2006, August 2007, October 2008, July 2010, February 2012, August 2012, and in July 2014.
An End to the “Golden Decade” of German-Chinese Cooperation?
Germany’s press is diverse at first glance, but much of what ends up in regional papers is written by relatively few correspondents or editorialists in Berlin, pooled in news agencies and correspondent’s offices that offer their services to any paper in the market. “Die Krisen reisen mit” (Crises travel along), written by two Deutsche Presseagentur (DPA) correspondents, was published by a number of small or medium-sized regional papers. Sebastian Heilmann, a sinologist, is quoted as saying that London had assumed the leading role in relations with China (this probably refers to the leading role in the European Union).
But the DPA article doesn’t want to leave Heilmann’s remarks uncontested:
That Cameron, all of a sudden, only leers at business doesn’t necessarily suggest convictions and reliability, as can be read from internet users’ sardonic remarks. The chancellor enjoys much greater esteem. But Xi was probably happy to see the human-rights topic basically dropped under the table in London, and the Europeans being split. The [German] federal government takes no stock in this kind of policy changes and remains firm in its critical China policy. Chinese people appreciate reliability. Even the strength of Germany’s industries alone would ensure Germany’s position as China’s “definitely strongest trading partner”, the chancellery believes.
Dass Cameron plötzlich nur noch auf das Geschäft schielt, spricht auch aus chinesischer Sicht nicht unbedingt für Überzeugungen und Verlässlichkeit, wie aus hämischen Kommentaren von Internetnutzern erkennbar wird. Da genießt die Kanzlerin viel größere Wertschätzung. Aber Xi dürfte sich gefreut haben, dass das Thema Menschenrechte in London praktisch unter den Tisch gefallen ist und hier ein Keil zwischen die Europäer getrieben werden konnte. Die Bundesregierung hält von solchen Kurswechseln aber nichts und bleibt in ihrer kritischen China-Politik standhaft. Die Chinesen wissen Zuverlässigkeit zu schätzen. Schon wegen der Stärke der deutschen Industrie werde Deutschland auch “mit Sicherheit der stärkste Handelspartner” der Chinesen bleiben, glaubt man im Kanzleramt.
Deutsche Welle’s Mandarin service is more elaborate, drawing on a press release from the Mercator Institute for China in Berlin, r rather on the institute’s trade magazine “China Flash”. In an interview with the magazine, Heilmann, the institute’s director, said that Chinese demand for industrial commodities was going down, and at the same time,
there’s a certain disillusionment on the Chinese side, because jointly agreed projects are stagnating: from the Chinese perspective, German industry is too passive in technological cooperation, and the federal government has given too little profile to the issue.
auf chinesischer Seite eine gewisse diplomatische Ernüchterung, weil gemeinsam vereinbarte Projekte stocken: Aus Sicht der Chinesen ist die deutsche Industrie in der Technologiekooperation zu passiv, und die Bundesregierung hat das Thema Innovationspartnerschaft zu niedrig aufgehängt.
As for an action framework for innovation partnership, adopted in Berlin in October 2014, with Chinese chief state councillor Li Keqiang and Merkel in attendance, Merkel would “need to cheer up disappointed interlocutors in Beijing”:
Peking had hoped that German companies would procure Chinese companies with innovative know-how on networked production. However, German companies are understandably skeptical: Industry 4.0 is about fundamental, sensitive future technology. The question if this kind of know-how can be protected in the Chinese context must be answered in the negative, at present.
Peking hatte gehofft, dass deutsche Unternehmen chinesischen Firmen innovatives Wissen zur vernetzten Industrieproduktion beibringen. Doch deutsche Unternehmen sind verständlicher Weise skeptisch: Bei Industrie 4.0 geht es um elementare, sensible Zukunftstechnologien. Und die Frage, ob solches Know-how im chinesischen Kontext geschützt werden kann, muss man derzeit klar verneinen.
In Heilmann’s view, Germany losing its status as an “anchor state” for Chinese engagement in Europe shouldn’t simply be attributed to London’s “fulminant diplomatic campaign”, but to intensifying Chinese interest in international financial markets and tertiary-industry-related know-how.
Meantime, the federal government, in its announcement of Merkel’s visit to China, stated that Berlin’s goal was a balance between economic/technological, and social issues, and to include issues of global order, as well.
Human Rights: “Huanqiu Shibao” pities Merkel
Heilmann doesn’t seem to agree that China’s leaders would appreciate the federal government’s “critical China policy” (see first blockquote). It would be quite possible, Heilmann told “China Flash”, that Chinese government representatives wouldn’t listen to German expostulations “as patiently as they did last year”.
One had to pity Merkel, Huanqiu Shibao wrote in a slightly satirical article, republished here by Guanchazhe (Shanghai) on Thursday:
Today and tomorrow; German chancellor Angela Merkel visits China. So-called human-rights organizations like Amnesty International responded right away, on receipt of the news. This organization, which frequently causes China trouble, as well as the disreputable organizations “World Uyghur Congress” and “International Campaign for Tibet” recently published a joint open letter to Merkel and demanded that she should voice “concern regarding the situation in Chinese judiciary” and to voice her “support for suppressed Uyghur human rights lawyers”.
“Tibetan-independence” and “Xinjiang-independence” organization in Western exile have apparently learned something new, adding new concepts like “situation in Chinese judiciary” and “Uyghur human rights lawyers”. That’s very amusing.
From the perspective of the large public in mainland China, Western leaders who sing the praise of human rights every time when visiting China, come across as somewhat strange. Above all, what they mean by human rights is often different from what Chinese the common people mean. For example, Chinese people are above all concerned by social justice, with educational justice and fair access to medical treatment, home ownership, care for the elderly, etc..
Chinese people also want rule by law, they hope for unrestricted freedom of speech, and more democratic government. As far as these [issues] are concerned, the country has a diversity in practice, keeps summing up experiences, and indeed, there are problems on government level that need to be solved. Concepts like democracy and rule by law have found their way into socialist core values. In fact, Chinese society, more than any external force, is more concerned with doing this well, and engages in exploring these issues.
When foreigners talk to China about human rights, this frequently refers to the tiny minority of people who are in jail for challenging China’s political system, defined by the constitution and rules, in a way that is relevant under criminal law. Our strong impression is that they [foreign visitors] aren’t concerned about Chinese human rights which are constantly improving, that they aren’t concerned for the growing prosperity of a majority of Chinese people, but that they [my translation for the rest of this line may be rather vague or inaccurate – JR] want to help those who seek confrontation with the Chinese system. By this, they want to cause China trouble and force China to adopt government methods that don’t fit this country.
外国人向中国一谈人权，指的往往是为挑战中国宪法规定 的政治制度而触犯刑法，并因此坐了监狱的极少数人。给我们的强烈印象是，他们不是关心中国人权基本面 的不断改善，不是关心绝大多数中国人的福祉，而是要帮助能数得过来的与中国体制搞对抗的人，他们是要以这种方式找中国麻烦，逼中国采取不适合自己的国家治 理方式。
Many people from the West say that they are sincerely concerned about human rights and that they can’t ignore the arrests of “dissidents”. But apparently, they don’t understand what those “dissidents” did, that they weren’t seized for “differing opinions”, but for doing things, because of their “different opinion”, that are banned by Chinese law.1)
One had to understand that China frequently gave cause to misunderstandings, Huanqiu Shibao wrote. After all, this was a big world, and far-away China was therefore not easy to understand. However, Western people with strong views about intervention in China should know how to behave in delicate situations. This wasn’t the era of the eight-nation alliance, and China wasn’t in the [weak] position anymore to beg for capital or technology.
Self-confident as Chinese society is today, people know that there are individual Western leaders who visit China with the tic of discussing “human rights”. Therefore, [Chinese people] feel a bit sorry and pity visitors who need to grit their teeth and shoulder the task of discussing “human rights”, so as to report to their superiors at home afterwards. Apparently, Chinese society is more generous than societies that exert pressure on their leaders, and are at times understanding.
If the Western societies didn’t know how rotten the game in question was, remained unknown, wrote, Huanqiu Shibao. But if the window speeches absolutely had to continue, China would be of help.
“People’s Daily”: Japan should learn from Germany, and from Britain, too
If the Sino-British era is to become about as successful as the preceding Sino-German tandem, remains to be seen. Either way, much seems to suggest that human rights issues are now considered useless obstacles for relations with China.
Hua Yiwen (华益文), an author for the party’s central newspaper People’s Daily, thinks that both sides, Beijing and London, have given a sincere representation of Sino-British relations, with a strategic positioning and a harmonic diversity that made the Chinese public’s positive view of Britain rocket upwards.2)
That said, Hua isn’t as dissatisfied about Germany either. The really bad guys are the Japanese. If one saw how actively both Britain and Germany developed their ties with China, one couldn’t help but think of Japan. Different from Germany, Japan hadn’t dealt with its history, and that was affecting Sino-Japanese relations. And while London’s policies were marked by strategic far-sightedness and political courage, the Abe government had decided “to join the US and to bang the gong of a ‘Chinese threat’, thus paving the way for a Japanese military security policy of its own, and thus adding a complication factor to Sino-japanese relations.
Human Rights: Merkel meets Activists
Angela Merkel reportedly held a private meeting with nine activists at the German embassy in Beijing on Thursday evening, risking host’s ire.
The risk of the CCP leadership’s ire is exaggerated: after all, this isn’t the first meeting of this kind, and if China’s leaders had seriously objected, and considered it worth the price, they could have barred all nine activists from the meeting, as Mo Shaoping, who was invited to such a meeting in February 2012, can tell from his own experience.
Next in the visitors’ line is French president Francois Hollande, scheduled to arrive in Beijing on November 2. State council foreign-language website china.org quotes Zhou Yongsheng (周永胜) of the Chinese University for Foreign Affairs. interprets the visits, closely following each other, as “illustrating the growing influence and the position of power held by China, as acknowledged and appreciated by numerous great countries”.
1) Probably, the Chinese dissident who is most prominent abroad should be Liu Xiaobo. (He’s hardly known or remembered within China.) He has been under arrest continuously since December 2008, and was sentenced in December 2009, for “inciting subversion of state power”. As far as I can tell, there were no clear-cut reasons given for the judgment. A conjecturable motive for seizing Liu Xiaobo could be the Charter 08, co-authored by Liu and about to be published at the time.
2) How sustainable “the Chinese public’s benevolence” and the foundations of the “British-Chinese Golden Decade” can be will also depend on a factor that could sound familiar to a message London received from Washington nearly three years ago. Back then, US president Barack Obama had informed David Cameron that he valued a strong UK in a strong European Union. Same message from Xi Jinping, according to Xinhua last week:
Xi Jinping emphasized that the European Union was China’s partner in a comprehensive strategic partnership. China hoped for a prospering Europe, a united Europe, and for an important EU member country, Great Britain, playing an active and constructive role in promoting and deepening Chinese-European relations.