Germany’s Merkel demands equal treatment for foreign firms in China

By dpa correspondents

German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded equal treatment of German and other foreign firms operating in China in a videoconference with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Thursday.

In the call, Merkel called on Li to grant foreign companies better market access to China, one of Germany’s most important trade partners, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Merkel made clear further steps were necessary to improve the status of foreign firms in the country and emphasized the importance of inking an ambitious EU-China investment agreement.

Merkel also underlined Germany’s interest in maintaining rules-based and free multilateral trade, strengthening the World Trade Organization (WTO) and continuing stable bilateral relations, Seibert said.

German and European companies are struggling in China, with growing reliance on state-owned enterprises at the expense of the private sector among the top concerns cited by businesses polled in a survey by the European Union Chamber of Commerce there.

The talks, which were also attended by German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, also touched upon the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout.

In particular, the leaders discussed how to stimulate trade between the two countries during the virus-induced downturn, and against the background of rising tensions between Beijing and Washington.

A major EU-China summit that was due to be held in September in the German city of Leipzig was cancelled because of the outbreak.

Human rights and the situation in Hong Kong were also on Merkel’s agenda, said Seibert.

Ahead of the conference, politicians from across the political spectrum called on the chancellor to stand up for freedoms in Hong Kong perceived as under threat from Beijing’s national security laws voted through in May.

Gyde Jensen, chair of the German parliament’s Human Rights Committee, told dpa ahead of the call on Thursday she expected Merkel to “strongly condemn Beijing’s plans.”

“The pragmatic German approach to change through trade has failed in the case of the People’s Republic,” Jensen said.

“The federal government must finally begin to implement its promise of a foreign policy guided by human rights.”

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