Caught between human rights and trade, Angela Merkel lands in China

Caught between human rights and trade, Angela Merkel lands in China
Copyright 2019 CNN
German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses Harvard students.

Angela Merkel was welcomed by Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Friday amid calls for the German Chancellor to take a stronger line on China’s human rights record.

Accompanied by a group of German business leaders, the visit is her 12th to the country since she took power in November 2005.

Chinese state media trumpeted the visit as a chance to strengthen ties between Beijing and Berlin, with news agency Xinhua proclaiming that there is “an urgent need for Germany and China to safeguard an open global economy.”

According to state-run CGTN, Merkel is expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the trip. China is one of Germany’s largest trading partners, buying almost $100 billion of German exports in 2017.

Apart from a possible meeting with Xi, there is no specific information about Merkel’s schedule before she leaves on Saturday.

Beijing is using the opportunity to highlight ties between the two countries amid a heated US-China trade war. “Beijing and Berlin have already set a good example of how to transform differences into complementarities, instead of using them as excuses to engage in hostilities,” an editorial in China Daily said.

But her visit comes amid a growing focus on China’s human rights record, with continued reports of Muslim-majority Uyghurs being held in mass detention centers in the western province of Xinjiang.

The World Uyghur Congress released an open letter calling on Merkel to demand the immediate release of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs believed to be detained in western China.

Hong Kong has also been a hotbed of anti-government protests for months. In a letter to Merkel ahead of her visit, prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong also wrote to her to ask for help. He asked her to “express concern over our dire situation and put forward our demands to the Chinese government during your stay.”

Drawing on Merkel’s decades living in communist East Germany, the letter adds, “You have first-hand experience of the terrors of a dictatorial government.”

Speaking in Beijing on Friday, Merkel said the rights of Hong Kong citizens “must be respected.”

“In the current situation, everything must be given to avoid violence and the solution can only be carried out in a political way — that is to say through dialogue,” she told reporters.