A leading dissident has satirized German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s failure to publicly raise human rights or meet activists during her current trip to China, while references to a burgeoning “special relationship” between Berlin and Beijing have prompted criticism from German media.
Among the 18 major business deals signed was a $3.5 billion agreement to sell 50 Airbus planes to China. Dissident artist Ai Weiwei (above) tweeted about the deal:
“Germany’s Merkel comes to China and visits the Forbidden City and takes the high-speed train”….. But Mr. Ai, whose company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development, has been hit with heavy tax bills that he says are trumped up, added: Don’t forget that my money helped pay for those aircraft.
“Airbus will sell China 100 planes for $9 billion,” he tweeted (the deal was originally expected to be bigger than it proved to be), “but does she know that a lot of Fake’s money, taken forcibly in framed charges, is among that money?”
“It was a classic move by Mr. Ai, a pointed message that China’s people work hard to create the country’s wealth but have little say in a tightly controlled one-party state,” the NYT’s Didi Kirsten Tatlow writes:
As usual, Mr. Ai, a satirist who was detained for nearly three months last year in what he says was retaliation for his public criticism of the government, used humor to get his message across. This photograph, of Mr. Ai socializing with four cardboard Merkels, comes with the caption, “It won’t rain, will it?”
Mr. Ai has close ties to Germany. He has a large German public, both for his art and for his political activism. In fact, Mr. Ai, dubbed “China’s State Enemy No. 1” by the mass-circulation Bild newspaper in an interview published the day before Ms. Merkel landed, cannot take up an academic post in Berlin because the government has seized his passport, he told Bild here (in German).
A former dissident in communist East Germany, Merkel has been criticized for not taking a public stance on human rights in China. But some observers believe her reticence also reflects a shift in the balance of power, with Europe reluctant to offend a state whose assistance it needs to resolve its economic crisis.
“The significance of this visit lies primarily in the bilateral economic relations,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing and an adviser to the State Council, or cabinet. “There has been a lot of discussion over China providing financial assistance to Europe. But Germany cannot solely represent Europe, and Europe as an integrated entity still has some concern over receiving Chinese assistance.”
Suggestions of a “special relationship” between democratic Germany and authoritarian China drew criticism from across the political spectrum.
‘China regards Germany as the leading power in Europe and is treated as such. That is flattering — and is also dangerous,” The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
No matter how dynamically the relation develops in terms of trade and investment, there can never be a ‘special relationship’ between the communist People’s Republic and Germany, a democratic country in the heart of the European Union, at least not in the sense of the Anglo-American connection. The two countries’ ideas about the state and society, and about the rule of law and human rights, are too far apart for that. We should not delude ourselves.
“Forget the days when Angela Merkel received the Dalai Lama at the Chancellery for ‘private talks’ and found herself attracting the wrath of the Chinese leadership as a result,” the left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
That was five years ago. The German chancellor now travels to China every year (…). Never have relations between Berlin and the authoritarian regime in Beijing been as excellent as they are at present.
But all the mutual economic interests should not allow the human rights dialogue with China to be forgotten.
Other voices called on Merkel to adopt a tougher stance on rights, the WSJ reports:
A group of German journalists in China wrote in a joint letter to the chancellor complaining of increased scrutiny from Chinese authorities….A group of eight German lawmakers have canceled their trip to China, scheduled to coincide with Ms. Merkel’s, after being denied permission to visit Xinjiang, a region that has seen clashes between Chinese authorities and the country’s Uighur minority.
“As German parliamentarians, we can’t accept that kind of restrictive treatment,” said Johannes Pflug, head of the German-Chinese parliamentary group.
“Merkel, a former East German, is known for having sought out visits with Chinese dissidents in the past, both in China and in Germany,” Tatlow writes:
On this trip, though, she was focusing her efforts on meeting with environmental activists, German sources said — a group widely acknowledged here as the least politically sensitive sector of China’s much-harassed civil society.