The rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents should be protected and a solution to the Chinese city’s political crisis can only be garnered through dialogue, not violence, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said.
Ms Merkel met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang after arriving in Beijing on Friday morning, and will also meet later with President Xi Jinping.
The German leader faces the challenge of balancing human rights concerns and economic discussions with one of her nation largest trading partners.
During a joint news briefing with Mr Li, she said: “I indicated during the talks that the rights and freedoms agreed upon in Hong Kong’s Basic Law should be safeguarded.”
The Basic Law is Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, which promises the semi-autonomous Chinese city certain democratic rights not afforded to the mainland.
Ms Merkel added that political dialogue — not violence — is the path towards a resolution.
China was Germany’s biggest single trading partner last year, with trade totalling 199 billion euro (£177 billion). The relationship is important to Europe’s largest economy, particularly as Germany is considered likely to enter a technical recession in the current quarter.
Germany long had amicable relations with Beijing because its exporters ran a surplus supplying Chinese factories with equipment and components. But those ties are increasingly strained over German complaints about market access and Chinese technology policy.
Mr Li told reporters during the joint briefing that German companies are welcome in China and will have a relatively easier time getting things approved because the two countries have a foundation of trust.
We hope that Chancellor Merkel will take a firm stance for the values that unified Germany after the fall of Communism: human rights, democracy and the rule of law
He said he and Ms Merkel discussed collaboration on artificial intelligence and self-driving vehicles, as well as intellectual property rights and reducing export controls.
Beijing has previously tried without success to recruit Germany as an ally in its tariff war with President Donald Trump. While Ms Merkel’s government has echoed US complaints, it objects to Mr Trump’s tactics, which he has also used against Europe.
US-China trade tensions have also impacted German businesses, Ms Merkel said, adding that China and Germany hope to serve as models for defending multilateral trade relationships.
Ms Merkel is in Beijing with a high-ranking German business delegation that includes executives in the car, financial services and transport industries. In recent years, German companies have been unhappy about being barred from acquiring most Chinese assets at a time when China’s companies have been on a global buying spree.
The economic ties make it harder for Ms Merkel to satisfy a US diplomat and activists who have urged her to raise human rights issues such as China’s treatment of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang, as well as the three months of pro-democracy demonstrations that have roiled Hong Kong.
Richard Grenell, the US ambassador to Germany, said on Thursday that China’s “wilful disregard of its commitments” to Hong Kong and human rights violations in Xinjiang show its ruling Communist Party “stands against the values Germany cherishes”.
He added: “We hope that Chancellor Merkel will take a firm stance for the values that unified Germany after the fall of Communism: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”
Hong Kong activists also warned Ms Merkel about dealing with “authoritarian and unjust regimes” in an open letter published this week in Germany’s Bild newspaper.
On the question of what Ms Merkel might say about Hong Kong, a senior German official said the talks with Mr Xi and Mr Li will be conducted “comprehensively in terms of thematic breadth, and open and friendly in terms of tone — with a readiness to express criticism where we think things are worthy of criticism”.