Merkel and Li call for closer cooperation despite differences

By Andreas Landwehr and Joerg Blank, dpa

Germany and China agreed to enhance their cooperation in business, fighting climate change and health policy, during an online conference between their two governments on Wednesday.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang also acknowledged major differences, with Merkel stressing disagreement especially in the area of human rights.

The chancellor urged China to engage in dialogue on the mutual approval of vaccines to counter the coronavirus pandemic. “We can only contain this pandemic jointly,” Merkel said in Berlin. “China and Germany can play a significant role here.”

She called for open discussions on vaccine production and bilateral approval where possible, “at least at the World Health Organization so as to win the battle against the virus.”

The coronavirus pandemic had claimed many victims and confronted “societies and economies with a truly difficult test,” Merkel said.

From Beijing, Li said that China and Germany had differing views on certain questions. “That is an objective fact.”

But as long as both sides “respect core interests” and communicate “on the basis of equal treatment and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs,” they could create conditions favourable for continued smooth cooperation, he said.

Li’s raising of “core issues” is a reference, among other things, to China’s controversial claims to Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Beijing has also consistently rejected criticism of its suppression of the democracy movement in Hong Kong and of its treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang.

The talks, the sixth in a series of consultations every two years that began in 2011, were attended by Cabinet members on both sides.

Beijing simultaneously hosted an economic forum with business representatives from both countries.

Turning to human rights, Merkel said that partnership also meant “that we address problematic issues and are able to lay everything on the table.”

She referred to the situation in Hong Kong, where political freedoms have been curtailed following the passing of a new national security law imposed from Beijing.

Merkel called for human rights dialogue between the two countries to be restarted, adding the issues needed to be discussed between the respective Justice Ministries.

But she also defended continuing contact with Beijing, saying conflicts could only be resolved through talking.

Li said that the current international situation was going through complex and far-reaching changes, in particular due to the continuing pandemic. He noted that both countries supported multilateralism and free trade.

“Both sides should set an example for openness, mutual benefit and cooperation for mutual advantage,” he said.

On economic issues, Merkel said a recent investment agreement between China and the European Union could serve as a basis for transparent economic relations, access to each other’s markets and reciprocity.

She said the agreement would bring legal security for business and highlighted the importance of decent working conditions on both sides.

Agreement in principle on the deal was reached at the end of last year, with Germany in the driving seat on the EU side, but the details have yet to be hammered out.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, around 100 business representatives attended the simultaneous economic forum, where China showed interest in German investment and technology.

China aimed to ease conditions for foreign companies to invest in the country under its new five-year plan up to 2025, Hu Yuping, a vice minister at China’s influential National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said.

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