German Chancellor Angela Merkel has laid out a three-pronged approach to EU-China relations, praising Beijing for “ambitious” commitments to climate change while calling for fair trade and voicing concerns over Hong Kong and other “dreadful and often horrible” human rights issues.
Merkel made the remarks on Wednesday at the Bundestag, the German parliament, ahead of a two-day European Union special summit where all heads of government will gather to discuss China as a top item of the agenda, underlining Europe’s deepening sense of unease amid the US-China rivalry.
In a nuanced assessment, Merkel appeared to be the most positive on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly, where he promised to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 and to cap carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.
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“Looking at the development challenges for China, these targets really are ambitious and they should provide an inspiration for us in Europe as well, to live up to our promises,” she said.
“I think it’s not in dispute when it comes to climate, we need to work with China – it is the largest emitter worldwide.”
Taking a swipe at the US, which quit the Paris climate agreement of 2015, Merkel said: “It’s extremely important for China to contribute to the efforts for climate protection. Unlike other emitters, China at least – which is very encouraging – is standing by the agreements it entered into.”
On the investment agreement that the EU wants to conclude with China by the end of this year, Merkel was more reserved, as China refused to make stronger commitments on wider market access for European companies.
“Not much progress has been made and now we want to try to give new impetus to this negotiation. It’s always on the basis of reciprocity and market access,” she said.
“We want to try to make decisive progress – maybe even achieve political breakthrough, but I cannot promise that, but we would like to see that happen by the end of the year,” she said, repeating a point she made two weeks ago after a call she and two EU leaders had with Xi.
EU leaders hope that Xi will personally intervene on the stalemate facing the treaty talks and agree to what is essentially a major shake-up of China’s tightly state-managed economic model.
The German leader, who has taken a leading role in criticising Russia for what was described as an attempted assassination of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, also shone a light on China’s human rights problems.
“Of course, dialogue with China also means that we very clearly express our different opinions. After all, we have fundamentally different social systems – just look at the ways in which artificial intelligence is used in China,” she said.
“We have pointed out we are deeply concerned about the development in Hong Kong, where the ‘one country, two systems’ principle is being increasingly undermined.
“We are going to keep addressing that, just as we do on the dreadful and often horrible treatment of minority rights in China.”
She made no mention of Germany’s 5G policy, even though her cabinet was nearing the end of discussion over a new law on IT security, according to local media reports.
Some German lawmakers have been calling for an exclusion of Chinese tech giant Huawei Technology, while others raise concerns over the possibility of retaliation from Beijing, such as punitive measures against the lucrative German car industry.
More from South China Morning Post:
- EU leader at UN calls out China for its human rights record and its business practices
- China, a land of opportunity for EU firms willing to adapt
- European chief singles out China’s moves on Hong Kong, Xinjiang as she unveils new sanctions scheme
- China invites EU leaders to ‘see real situation in Xinjiang’ amid claims of Uygur detention and abuse
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