09/16/2006, 00.00
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Wen Jiabao in Europe: big interest in technology, rather less in rights

Trade agreements and technological collaboration dominated talks with Merkel and other European representatives, but practically no mention was made of civil liberties. Experts say Beijing wants to make partners of those representing Western economic interests, to make them forget about human rights violations.

Frankfurt (AsiaNews/Agencies) – On 14 September, the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao ended his visit to Germany, started the day before. Meetings were dominated by trade agreements and technological collaboration and there was practically no mention at all of human rights. On the same day, the premier left for Tajikistan.

In Germany, Wen said ties between China and the European Union were "stronger than ever", based on solid foundations, and that the economies of the two parties "complemented each other". China is seeking more cooperation especially in technological and energy sectors. Beijing is the largest non-EU member of the Galileo space project, a network of 30 satellites for civil use that should see the investment of 200 million US dollars.

The meeting with the German chancellor Angela Merkel focused especially on trade and technological exchanges. Merkel repeated to Wen that "human rights are inalienable" but her words seemed to be just mere routine confirmation, without any reference to concrete cases. So Wen agreed that "human rights must be protected", adding that they were recognized by the Chinese Constitution. China signed eight new economic agreements in Germany, with the government or with German firms. In 2005, trade between the two countries was worth 70 billion dollars. A Confucian school will be set up in Hanover. Meanwhile, a protest of several dozen human rights activists and members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement – persecuted by Beijing – was held outside the meeting venues.

For the future, the two states plan to boost technological collaboration above all else. "Technology is an important part of China's economic restructuring," said Wen, who hopes to develop avant guarde technology with Germany.

During his visit to Europe – spanning Great Britain, Finland and Germany – Wen repeatedly underscored how China, with 1.3 billion residents, provides a sterling opportunity for European industry. Analysts say this is his way of glossing over concerns about systematic violation of basic rights in China. In every trip made by the premier, new economic agreements are hailed as great successes, while criticism is leveled against China's pitiful protection of copyright and about trade imbalance, but not against civil liberties. Merkel even showed herself to be open to the possibility of lifting an EU ban on arms sales to Beijing imposed after the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square. Last year, trade between China and the EU reached 217.3 billion US dollars, outstripping the US by around 5.7 billion, according to Xu Kuangding, chairman of the China Federation of Industrial Economics.

Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland, said Western powers, including the United States, were not making much mention of China's rights record because they believed smooth business ties with Beijing were needed to protect their own businesses. "Economic deals make big, influential companies partners in Chinese mercantilism" so that their interests lay in ensuring that their countries put trade above everything else, he said.

Adam Koziel of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights said European governments "are engaging in a race for the Chinese market," and they preferred to turn a blind eye to human rights problems. One example is big US Internet companies like Yahoo, Microsoft and Google, accused by Amnesty International in July of collaborating with Chinese censorship to eliminate "disapproved" web material and to arrest cyber dissidents, all to have a foothold in the rich Chinese market.

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