Iran General NewsMerkel faces balancing act on first visit to China

Merkel faces balancing act on first visit to China


Reuters: German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a delicate balancing act when she visits China next week to forge unity on Iran and bolster bilateral economic ties, while delivering unwelcome messages on human rights and piracy. By Noah Barkin and Claudia Kade

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a delicate balancing act when she visits China next week to forge unity on Iran and bolster bilateral economic ties, while delivering unwelcome messages on human rights and piracy.

Merkel travels to China on Sunday for a two-day visit that takes her to Beijing and Shanghai. She is due to hold talks with Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao on her first trip to the country since replacing Gerhard Schroeder six months ago.

During that time Merkel has visited both the United States and Russia twice, winning plaudits for overseeing a shift in German foreign policy that has brought Berlin closer to Washington and put relations with Moscow on a more even keel.

But analysts say she faces a bigger diplomatic challenge with China, a country she has visited in an official capacity only once before — as German environment minister in 1997.

“Schroeder enjoyed excellent relations with China because he avoided pressuring or criticizing them,” said Kay Moeller, an Asia expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. “The Chinese government is likely to be more reserved toward Merkel, at least at the start.”

When in opposition, Merkel was critical of Schroeder’s efforts to scrap an EU arms embargo on Beijing that was put in place after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

In a coalition pact sealed late last year, her government vowed to “intensify” the dialogue with Beijing on democracy and human rights.

Merkel also faces pressure from German companies to press the Chinese government to take more forceful action against copyright pirates they say are eating into revenues.

She must balance these concerns against the need to forge a consensus with Beijing on curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Merkel is also aware how important China is to Germany from an economic standpoint and will be keen to ensure continued access to China’s huge market.

Bilateral trade reached $63.2 billion last year, accounting for about a third of China’s trade with the European Union and making Germany China’s largest trading partner within the bloc.

“The growth of Chinese-German economic cooperation will encourage Merkel to maintain policy continuity,” said Meng Hong, of the German Research Center at Beijing’s People’s University.


Berlin and Beijing are at odds on the desirability of pursuing sanctions against Iran, with Merkel open to tougher measures and the Chinese government firmly against a showdown with the Islamic Republic in the U.N. Security Council.

During the visit, the two are expected to play down their differences, stressing a preference for a diplomatic solution to the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program and perhaps making clear that they are against Tehran obtaining nuclear weapons.

Merkel will be accompanied by Economy Minister Michael Glos, Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee and a delegation of 40 top managers from companies like Deutsche Bank, Allianz, SAP and Siemens.

Last month China’s official Xinhua news agency said a planned high-speed magnetic levitation train line between Shanghai and the eastern city of Hangzhou would use some German technology.

That suggests China could sign a deal to use the maglev technology produced by Transrapid, a consortium of ThyssenKrupp , Siemens and the German government.

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing)

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