German Chancellor Angela Merkel wrapped up a two-day visit to China on Friday after meeting with nine human rights activists and political dissidents.
The Chancellor, who is currently under fire in Europe over her open-border policy on refugees, met with a group that included human rights lawyers, writers, and bloggers at the German Embassy in Beijing on Thursday evening, Bloomberg reported.
They told her that the human rights situation in China has gone downhill since President Xi Jinping took power in November 2012, it quoted an anonymous official as saying.
The move comes after sharp criticism of the red-carpet welcome during President Xi Jinping's recent state visit to Britain, when the government of Prime Minister David Cameron was sharply criticized by rights groups for not challenging Beijing on the issue.
Liu Feiyue, founder of the Hubei-based rights website Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, welcomed the meeting.
"For so many years now, there has been a trend in the international community, and among developed Western democracies in particular, of bowing down before China's economic power and financial might," Liu said.
"We saw this in particular during the recent visit of Xi Jinping to the U.K., where they seemed in every respect to be courting Chinese money," he said.
"They seemed to have forgotten all about their support for values like freedom, democracy, and human rights."
Liu said the recent treatment of China's leaders by overseas governments had led to strong criticism from the country's community of rights activists and political dissidents.
"You can hear this sort of criticism in many different places, so for Merkel to do such a thing shows that she still hasn't forgotten those universal human values," he said.
"This is a tremendous encouragement to democracy activists and dissidents inside China."
One meeting blocked
Merkel’s meeting with the activists stood in stark contrast to U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's vowing to steer clear of "megaphone diplomacy" on the thorny issue of human rights during a recent visit to China.
The brother of Liu Xia, wife of jailed 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, said the family had lost touch with her during Merkel's visit, suggesting the authorities were anxious to avoid a meeting between the two women.
"I went to her place yesterday but she wasn't there, and she's not picking up the phone," Liu Xia's brother Liu Tong told RFA on Friday.
He said it was "strange" that Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest at her Beijing apartment since her husband's award was announced five years ago, wasn't home.
"I think they are definitely trying to avoid [her meeting with Merkel]," Liu Tong said. "They are doing that to make sure she can't see anyone."
"They do this every year when some [leader] visits, or when there's a big meeting," he said.
"She'll come back when Merkel is gone."
Hong Kong-based Amnesty International China researcher William Nee, who was strongly critical of the U.K. earlier this month, said Merkel's meeting was a "high-profile gesture" in support of China's embattled civil society.
"[It shows] support for rights activists inside China, in particular those who have been targeted in the crackdown by Xi Jinping's administration," Nee told RFA.
"Such an attitude is becoming rare indeed, and I wonder if any of the leadership brought it up with her during the trip."
He added: "It was more than many high-ranking foreign officials have managed on their visits to China recently."
But he said Merkel should also have challenged China openly on its rights record, and called on Beijing to release all prisoners of conscience currently in detention.
According to the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, at least 300 lawyers, law firm staff, human right activists, and family members have recently been detained, questioned by police, forbidden to leave the country, held under residential surveillance, or are simply missing.
While 255 have since been released, the rest remain under some form of surveillance or criminal detention in a crackdown that began with the detention of Beijing-based rights lawyer Wang Yu and her colleagues at the Fengrui law firm on the night of July 9-10, it said.
Meanwhile, rights attorney Liu Zhihui, a vocal support of Wang and her colleagues, said he was recently taken in for questioning by police in his district of Pudong over his support for Wang and her 16-year-old son's recent attempt to flee the country.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.