Germany’s Merkel faces balancing act in Beijing

International By: The Bullet Wire 9:15 pm

BEIJING (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived Friday in Beijing, where she faces the challenge of balancing human rights concerns and economic discussions with one of Germany’s largest trading partners.

Merkel is meeting this morning with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and will dine with President Xi Jinping in the evening.

China was Germany’s biggest single trading partner last year, with trade totaling 199 billion euros ($218 billion). The relationship is important to Europe’s largest economy, particularly as Germany is considered likely to enter a technical recession in the current quarter.

Germany long had amicable relations with Beijing because its exporters ran a surplus supplying Chinese factories with equipment and components. But those ties increasingly are strained over German complaints about market access and Chinese technology policy.

Beijing tried without success to recruit Germany as an ally in its tariff war with President Donald Trump. While Merkel’s government has echoed U.S. complaints, it objects to Trump’s tactics, which he has also used against Europe.

Merkel is in Beijing with a high-ranking German business delegation that includes executives in the auto, financial services and transport industries. In recent years, German companies have been unhappy about being barred from acquiring most Chinese assets at a time when China’s companies have been on a global buying spree.

The economic ties make it harder for Merkel to satisfy a U.S. diplomat and activists who have urged her to raise human rights issues such as China’s treatment of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang, as well as the three months of pro-democracy demonstrations that have roiled Hong Kong.

Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, said Thursday that China’s “willful disregard of its commitments” to Hong Kong and human rights violations in Xinjiang show that its ruling Communist Party “stands against the values Germany cherishes.”

“We hope that Chancellor Merkel will take a firm stance for the values that unified Germany after the fall of Communism: human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” he said.

Hong Kong activists also warned Merkel about dealing with “authoritarian and unjust regimes” in an open letter published this week in Germany’s Bild newspaper.

On the question of what Merkel might say about Hong Kong, a senior German official said the talks with Xi and Li will be conducted “comprehensively in terms of thematic breadth, and open and friendly in terms of tone — with a readiness to express criticism where we think things are worthy of criticism.”

The official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity in line with department rules. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, noted that she has previously called for dialogue and a peaceful solution on the basis of Hong Kong laws.

China has bristled at what it calls foreign interference from countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. on political tumult in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese city where activists have staged three months of mass protests calling for democratic reforms and an independent inquiry into police conduct.

On Friday, Merkel will also visit German engineering company ZF Fredrichshafen in Beijing. She travels Saturday to Wuhan, the capital of central Hubei province, where she will inaugurate the plant expansion at German auto supplier Webasto and speak at Wuhan University.


Moulson reported from Berlin. AP Business Writer Joe McDonald contributed to this report.

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