Kinkel goes fence-fixing in China

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The Independent Online
"After the rain, the skies cleared quickly," President Jiang Zemin told the visiting German foreign minister, Dr Klaus Kinkel, yesterday. And with this poetic flourish, Sino-German relations were very officially back on course.

Mr Kinkel had been scheduled to visit Peking in July, until Peking cancelled the invitation in protest at a German parliamentary resolution attacking China over Tibet. Last night he declared the fence-mending visit "very successful", and said that both sides considered the "misunderstanding" to be over. The commercial interests of China and Germany were almost "ideally dove-tailing", he added.

The question was, at what cost in terms of limiting criticism of China's human rights record, especially at a time when a leading dissident, Wang Dan, is about to go on trial? Mr Kinkel said he did not leave out "controversial issues" in his discussions with Mr Jiang and the prime minister, Li Peng. But he said that his human rights dialogue took place in an open but "non- confrontational manner", phraseology that was identical to that of the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Shen Guofang, earlier in the day.

Mr Kinkel, visibly irritated by the questioning from Peking-based foreign journalists, was asked what he could achieve through this approach. "I did what I was able to do, and what I consider to be right," he said. He would not say if the Chinese leaders had told him about Mr Wang's likely fate. "You will not receive any further information on this from me". Nor would he explain just how human rights questions could be raised in a "non-confrontational" way.

On Monday Mr Kinkel said he had raised the case of Mr Wang and Wei Jingsheng, currently serving a 14-year sentence, in his meeting with Qian Qichen, the Chinese foreign minister.

The unspoken truth was that China's swift response against Germany earlier in the year again demonstrated how Peking's tolerance for Western pressure over human rights is at rock-bottom, even when it comes from a normally friendly source. Germany is China's biggest European trading partner, and last November Chancellor Helmut Kohl became the first Western foreign leader to visit the People's Liberation Army since the June 1989 crackdown. But China's leaders are now confident that the world is desperate for contracts and that, at the end of the day, politicians will not jeopardise business. The German president, Roman Herzog, will make a state visit to China next month.

Mr Kinkel thus found himself in the usual no-win situation. Under criticism from opposition members in Germany, he had to convince outsiders that he had made an effort to raise human rights issues - especially Tibet - given the resolution in the lower house of parliament which accused China of trying to eradicate Tibet's cultural identity. But in China's present nationalist climate, it seems that nothing any foreign country says will have any effect on China's human rights behaviour. Mr Wang's trial and a heavy jail sentence are expected soon, after Mr Kinkel's departure but before the arrival of the US secretary of state, Warren Christopher, next month.

Mr Christopher's last visit to China, in Spring 1994, resulted in the detention of Mr Wei, because China's most famous dissident had the temerity to meet the visiting Secretary of State. With the forthcoming trial of Mr Wang, the recent jailing of Liu Xiaobo, and the escape to America of Wang Xizhe, there are now no dissidents left at large for Mr Christopher to invite to dine, even if he were so inclined.