Beijing / Berlin (dpa) – Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang meet with their ministers for virtual government talks today. The talks are overshadowed by problems in the German economy and growing political tensions.
It is the sixth edition of the talks that have taken place every two years in this large format every two years since 2011 – due to the pandemic, this time there is only one video conference for the first time. A direct talk between Merkel and Li Keqiang is also planned. Company representatives also gather in Beijing for an economic forum.
In advance, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, Norbert Röttgen (CDU), warned against too much confidence in dealing with China. “China has a strategic soft power policy in Germany and other parts of the world,” he told the editorial network Germany (RND). “A lot is happening in a subtle way,” says Röttgen. “You can get your foot in the door, influence and create dependencies if necessary.” In Germany, the procedure is little noticed. “I think that’s naive. On the other hand, I recommend realism. “
Party representatives also called on the federal government to clearly address human rights violations in China and the recent sanctions against critics in Germany and Europe.
The list of issues weighing on the traditionally good relationship between both parties is long:
In March, for the first time in more than three decades, the European Union re-imposed sanctions on China for human rights violations. The punitive measures are aimed at those responsible for the oppression of the Uyghurs. In response, Beijing imposed further sanctions on German and other EU MPs, academics and the Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics) in Berlin, sparking outrage.
Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs have been sent to re-education camps in Xinjiang, according to human rights activists. Beijing speaks of training institutions. Many Uyghurs are also sentenced to prison terms. China accuses members of the Muslim minority of separatism and terrorism. The Turkish people feel oppressed by the Chinese. The charge of “genocide” is in the room. The evaluation under international law is also discussed in the Bundestag.
At the end of last year, China and the EU reached an agreement in principle on an investment deal that had been pushed forward under German leadership. It aims to improve access to the Chinese market. China vaguely promises “sustained efforts” to ratify two Forced Labor Conventions. The agreement has not yet been fully negotiated. It must also be approved by the European Parliament, where protests against China’s sanctions are growing.
Last week, the Bundestag passed a new IT security law that makes it much more difficult for Chinese telecom giant Huawei to participate in the expansion of the fast 5G mobile network. The reason for this are concerns about espionage and sabotage. The network equipment supplier and the Chinese government reject the allegations.
Beijing limits political freedoms in Hong Kong with a security law. It focuses on activities classified as subversive, separatist, terrorist, or conspiratorial. Britain and other Western countries see this as a violation of the internationally binding Joint Declaration for Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, which guarantees autonomy.
The German economy is complaining about a lack of visas, short-term regulatory changes and, in some cases, unreasonable hotels for the enforced two-week quarantine upon entry. It is hardly possible to send employees to China for installation, repair or maintenance. According to studies, the obstacles are currently the biggest problem for German companies operating in China.
The federal government is concerned about worsening working conditions for German correspondents in China. Both countries are arguing about the admission of new journalists. Also, unlike business people, German correspondents in China cannot just leave the country, because re-entry is usually not allowed due to the pandemic. As a result, the number of German journalists in China is declining.
SOUTH CHINESE OCEAN
China claims most of the resource-rich sea area that major shipping routes pass through. The arbitration committee in The Hague rejected these claims in 2016. However, Beijing is ignoring the verdict and is still building military facilities there. The US is sending naval ships to defend freedom of navigation and to protect their interests in the region. The federal government is considering sending a frigate to the area this year.