Merkel Visit Sees Rights Curbs

The German Chancellor gets assurances from the Chinese on possible new European bond purchases.
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Petitioners in Beijing call on the government to end the re-education through labor system, Aug. 30, 2012.
Petitioners in Beijing call on the government to end the re-education through labor system, Aug. 30, 2012.
Photo courtesy of a petitioner

Rights activists and political dissidents say they were kept under tight surveillance and house arrest during the visit to China by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who wrapped up her second trip of the year on Friday amid assurances from Beijing about further help to contain the eurozone crisis.

Premier Wen Jiabao's pledge of more Chinese investment in European government bonds follows China's contribution of U.S. $43 billion to the recapitalization of the International Monetary Fund and to the European Financial Stability Fund and purchase of EU government bonds.

These Chinese investments underscore Germany's growing economic dependence on the EU's largest trading partner.

Chinese petitioners attempted to highlight their problems during Merkel's visit but were kept at bay.

Authorities in the northern port city of Tianjin moved to round up hundreds of petitioners who tried to visit the city's complaints office ahead of Merkel's visit to the city, according to Tianjin-based rights activist Zhang Jianzhong.

"About 40 or 50 people went there today for their weekly protest, but they were moved on because the chancellor was coming," Zhang said.

"The clearance action was very harsh; they wouldn't let them remain in the area at all."

"Some of the petitioners are now under surveillance," he said.


Beijing-based activists also reported a tightening of security during Merkel's visit to the capital.

Rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong said the police had begun watching his home on Wednesday.

"They told me that during Merkel's visit, and immediately after that, during [U.S. Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton's visit, they would be implementing certain measures," Jiang said.

Clinton begins a two-day trip to China next Tuesday.

"[They said that] I'm not allowed to attend any activities related to these two visits," Jiang said

Many of his fellow rights activists and petitioners were subject to similar security measures.

"It's not just aimed at me," he said. "Everyone that the authorities consider to be a target for stability maintenance [is affected.]"

"Some are being followed, while others aren't being allowed to leave their homes; all kinds of measures [are being used]," Jiang added.

Others affected included Xu Zhiyong, a rights lawyer who runs the "Citizen" legal helpline, and Beijing legal scholar Mo Zhixu.

"They are watching me," Mo said in a brief interview on Friday. "[There are] two or three of them."

Second trip

Merkel's visit, which began on Thursday, is her second trip to China this year, and the sixth since she became chancellor, and was billed by German officials as being largely aimed at strengthening economic ties.

Official media flagged Merkel's visit, meanwhile, as a "major upgrade" in bilateral relations.

"The Chinese premier and the German chancellor both headed a team of around 10 government ministers for the second round of their inter-governmental consultations," the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"The mechanism is the first of its kind between China and a major Western country, and it signals another major upgrade of their ties," the agency said.

It said that the hour-long meeting between Merkel, Wen, and their ministerial teams produced a total of 18 governmental and business agreements from energy cooperation to airplane purchases.

"The deals are believed to be worth well more than U.S. $6 billion," Xinhua reported.

Jiang, who has met with Merkel on previous visits to China, said he was disappointed at the lack of attention to human rights issues on this visit.

"Whether it's Merkel or Hillary Clinton, if they aren't going to talk about human rights issues at all, or if they don't talk about how to advance the rule of law in China, then it would be better if they didn't come at all," he said.

"Because when they do come, they bring us a great deal of harassment [by the authorities]," Jiang said. "We are unlikely to see lasting economic benefits in a China where the rule of law and protection for human rights are nonexistent."

However, reports indicated that Merkel is likely to have raised the issue of the freedom of the press with Wen following complaints by German journalists who say the difficulties of reporting in China are increasing.

German journalists based in China wrote to Merkel ahead of her visit, saying authorities in Beijing had been "wilfully obstructing" their work by threatening not to renew their visas and by intimidating local assistants.

A German official also told Agence France-Presse that the topic of human rights would also be on the agenda, amid pressure on Merkel to raise the issue of Tibet.

Germany is China's top trade partner in the EU with nearly half of all European exports to China coming from Germany. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of all EU imports from China land in Germany.

Bilateral trade reached U.S.$169 billion in 2011, an 18.9-percent rise on the previous year.


A Beijing-based petitioner surnamed Lin said he is campaigning along with fellow activists to abolish the current system of "re-education through labor," an administrative sentence which can be handed down for a maximum of three years with no trial.

"Hillary Clinton is coming to China next week, and we hope to see some improvement in China's human rights situation and democratic progress," he said.

"We hope that the world will pay attention to China's human rights situation."

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Tian Yi and Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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