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China-Germany Talks Thaw Relations That Had Cooled over Tibet

June 16, 2008

By Judy Dempsey
The International Herald Tribune (France)
June 14, 2008

BERLIN, June 13 - Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany
began a three-day visit to China on Friday, ending a period of cool
political relations between Berlin and Beijing after Chancellor
Angela Merkel broke with precedent last year by meeting the Dalai
Lama in her office.

The Merkel meeting with the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet
immediately provoked a wave of protests by China, whose leadership
threatened that important trade and economic ties would be damaged as a result.

The Chinese authorities did go ahead and cancel some meetings with
their German counterparts, including awkward ones for Beijing because
they involved establishing a regular dialogue on human rights and the
rule of law. But there was no negative effect on trade.

During a news conference with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi,
in Beijing on Friday, Steinmeier said, "We will resume the
interrupted strategic dialogue in the second half of the year."

Yang agreed that, recently, "China-Germany relations have already
moved onto a track of normal development."

Despite all the warnings from the Chinese leadership and from German
industry that trade would suffer because of Merkel's stance on Tibet
and human rights in China, it has not.

If anything, it is flourishing, according to the Federal Association
of German Industry, which said Friday that "no contracts were
affected." Total trade between Germany and China reached €7.9
billion, or $12.2 billion, in January, up 16.49 percent from the same
month last year, according to the most recent figures released by
German Federal Statistics Office. German imports from China totaled
€5.2 billion, an increase of more than 11 percent, and exports to
China reached €2.7 billion, up 27 percent year-on-year.

Steinmeier, a Social Democrat and vice chancellor, has generally
steered clear of human rights issues, instead promoting himself as
the diplomat who mended ties between Berlin and Beijing.

But foreign policy experts in Merkel's Christian Democratic Union
party said Friday that the chancellor had been in regular contact
with her Chinese counterparts.

Ulrich Wilhelm, the German government spokesman, said in the past
week that Merkel spoke by telephone with the Chinese prime minister,
Wen Jiabao, "as part of the regular contacts." She pledged to provide
more aid for the devastated region of Sichuan, which was struck by an
earthquake last month that killed tens of thousands of people and
left millions homeless.

Merkel also welcomed the resumption of a dialogue between the Chinese
authorities and representatives of the Dalai Lama, which she
consistently called for while Steinmeier refused to meet the Dalai
Lama when he was in Germany last year and last month.

Steinmeier had assailed Merkel earlier this year while addressing a
party congress. He said Merkel's policy of publicly speaking out
about human rights and the lack of press freedom in Russia and China
was more about winning cheap publicity at the expense of pursuing a
policy of quite diplomacy.

But in Beijing, Steinmeier changed his tone Friday and said that he
hoped more talks would resume soon between China and the Dalai Lama's
representatives, and that "this will also lead to progress on
advancing and protecting Tibetans' culture and religion."
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