Chinese PM breaks off visit to Germany

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The Independent Online
IN AN unprecedented diplomatic move, the Chinese Prime Minister, Li Peng, yesterday broke off his official visit to Germany, because of indignation at continued demonstrations against the Peking regime.

Mr Li yesterday stayed in his Munich hotel instead of taking part in arranged functions. He is due to fly back to Peking today. German Foreign Ministry officials put a brave face on the debacle.

They emphasised that most of Mr Li's programme was complete.

But the upset could hardly be greater, since Chancellor Helmut Kohl did everything at the beginning of the week to emphasise good relations with Peking. Breaking off an official visit in this way is almost unheard of. The government's apparent readiness to cosy up to Mr Li for the purposes of economic gain had already led to criticism not just from the opposition, but also from within the ruling Christian Democrats.

Mr Li's patience snapped on Thursday, because of what he perceived as a hostile reception. He said China would not permit any 'interference in its internal affairs'. Then, he stood up his hosts in Berlin, Weimar, and Munich.

In Berlin he left the mayor literally standing on the pavement. In Weimar, he failed to show up for lunch, with the regional prime minister. In Munich, he announced that he would refuse to meet the mayor.

The German protesters had reminded Mr Li of his role in the Tiananmen Square massacre five years ago.

Foreign Ministry officials were keen to play down the consequences of the affair. But the diplomatic fuss has put Mr Kohl on the spot. His critics say he was paying too little attention to human rights questions in China.

The Chancellor now has to distance himself from the protesters, suggesting they are unrepresentative or to tell Mr Li, in effect, to like it or lump it in a democracy - and risk damage to the cosy economic relations with Peking. Germany is China's biggest trading partner in Europe.