Business without forgetting human rights for Merkel
The German chancellor meets Mgr Jin Luxian in Shanghai, 'banned authors' in Beijing, and talks about Tibet, internet and religious freedom. Germany remains one of China's leading trading partners.

Shanghai (AsiaNews) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is on an official visit to China, met today Mgr Aloysius Jin Luxian, a bishop with the official Church but reconciled with the Holy See. Yesterday she met the co-authors of a book on Chinese farmers that was banned by China's Propaganda Department. But she still managed to do business with the leaders of the Asian juggernaut. In fact, Germany remains China's leading European partner.

The German chancellor, whose is the daughter of a Protestant pastor, met today Mgr Jin, bishop of Shanghai. After a 30-minute chat, the two visited St Ignatius Cathedral in the Xujiahui neighbourhood. Bishop Jin, who is 90, has been ailing for a long time.

In September of last year, Pope Benedict XVI invited him and three other Chinese prelates to attend the Synod on the Eucharist in Rome. Chinese authorities however refused to issue them exit visas because of opposition from the Patriotic Association (PA) leaders who claimed that the invitations should have been addressed to their organisation and not directly to the bishops.

Given this background Merkel's visit represents an implicit backing to renewed ties between China and the Vatican and a rejection of the PA's claim that it is in charge of the official Church.

"I was very impressed with the bishop and how interested he is that good relations between the Vatican and the Chinese government exist," Chancellor Merkel said.

Before leaving for Shanghai today, she met two leading authors yesterday in Beijing. Chen Guidi and his wife Wu Chuntao have looked into and published stories about the situation of farmers and corruption amongst local officials. They co-authored a book on Chinese farmers that was banned by the authorities after being well received by the public.

Although it did not attack the book, the Propaganda Department in early 2004 prevented the book from being reprinted and withdrew all unsold copies still on the market. For the authors this is a sign that some top leaders agree with their analysis.

For some scholars, Angela Merkel's visit and her meetings and discussions on human rights are designed to provide support to pro-reform elements within China's leadership.

Yesterday the German chancellor met Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao with whom she raised issues such as religious freedom, human rights, Tibet and curbs on the internet.

"I think the Chinese government listens very carefully to the topic of human rights," she said at the end of the meeting. "We must hold more talks. We have to be speaking the same language both at home and in China when it comes to human rights."

With such words Merkel's visit marks a break with traditional European diplomacy that favoured talking trade in public and human rights in private out of concern for possible Chinese economic retaliation.

Yesterday German company Siemens signed a memorandum of understanding with China's Ministry of Railways and mainland firm CSR Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive for the delivery of 500 locomotives. The total value of the project could reach € 1.2 billion.

Siemens also won contracts to upgrade China's mobile phone system by providing network equipment and services to China Mobile Communications Corp and China United Telecommunications Corp.

Germany has more than 1,800 companies operating in China, according to the German Embassy in Beijing. Exports to China rose to more than € 18 billion last year from € 270 million in 1972.