On Monday night German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Premiere Wen Jiabao will meet for dinner in artist Max Liebermann's former villa on the shores of Berlin's idyllic Lake Wannsee. But the intimate gathering will be followed the next day by serious official political and economic discussions between the two countries' cabinets. Wen reportedly has 13 ministers in tow.
It will be the first such meeting of German and Chinese cabinets, and both countries have attached great meaning to the visit. But among German officials the question remains: How will they handle concerns about human rights violations in China?
Tensions over the issued eased last week following China's release of artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Then on Sunday another prominent activist, Hu Jia, was also set free after serving a three-and-a-half year sentence. Both incidents are seen within the German government as important steps towards improved human rights in China, but Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle still plans to address the issue further.
"Despite the relief that Ai Weiwei is with his family again, the fact remains that his freedom continues to be subject to oppressive restrictions," Westerwelle told Welt am Sonntag newspaper in an interview published on Sunday. In another interview with broadcaster ZDF on Monday, Westerwelle said that the German-Chinese relationship has become strong enough to sustain a difference of opinions. "If one approaches these things respectfully and practically, then everything can be discussed, even the hardest questions," he said.
Certainly Germany has a different relationship to freedom of expression and art, Westerwelle said. While there have been "very distressing and alarming news from China," the last 10 to 15 years have shown some improvements, the foreign minister added.
Chinese Report Lauds German Relationship
According to German daily Die Welt, Beijing recently published a report praising cooperation between the two countries. From bank regulation to research, technology and youth exchange programs, the "strategic partnership" with Germany is more extensive that with any other European nation, according to the report.
Meanwhile Economy Minister Philipp Rösler called China's growing prominence a "challenge for the German economy." The country surpassed Germany as the world's largest exporter in 2010. "China means an increase in opportunities for us if we continue to secure our competitiveness through innovation, flexibility and good relationships with customers," he told Bild newspaper.
Because China enjoys cost advantages in the manufacture of "more simple products," Germany has the chance to offer the country "technologically intensive goods and services," he said.
Germany only conducts regular government consultations with a handful of countries. The longest of these relationships began with France in 1963. Others include Italy, Spain, Poland, Russia, and Israel -- with India and China making the list just this year.
Pledging Support for the Euro
Ahead of the visit, Wen addressed China's economic development, signalling for the first time that the country was unlikely to reach its goal of keeping the inflation rate down to four percent this year. Consumer prices would be kept controlled at below five percent, he told a Hong Kong broadcaster on Monday.
"The financial situation in China will be among the best in the world this year," he said, adding that growth for 2011 would be above eight or nine percent. Though he ensured that inflation in the country was under control, economists have long said China would be unable to keep inflation below four percent. Rates could reach some six percent in June and July, they predict.
Wen's visit to Berlin follows stops in both Hungary and Britain. The Chinese Premier was celebrated in Budapest on Saturday after promising support for the euro in the face of the European Union's ongoing currency crisis. He signalled to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that China would buy bonds issued by the country, which does not yet use the euro, in addition to promising his support for the EU's common currency. He also offered Hungary a loan worth some 1 billion ($1.4 billion).
On Sunday the Chinese leader met with former British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown before attending a performance of William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" in the playwright's birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon. He was scheduled to meet with current Prime Minister David Cameron later on Monday.
-- kla, with wires
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