|Germany's Angela Merkel Says Olympics Putting China Rights Record Under Scrutiny
By Christopher Bodeen
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) attends a news conference with China's Premier Wen Jiabao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing August 27, 2007. (Guang Niu, Pool/AP Photo)
BEIJING Aug 28 - With the Beijing Olympics a year away, China can expect its human rights record to come under increasing scrutiny, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday.
"The world will watch China in a way not seen in many years," Merkel said in a speech to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. "It remains to be seen how China presents itself regarding the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press."
Merkel's comments came a day after meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, during which she said she raised human rights issues along with trade, environmental protection, and China's rampant copyright piracy.
In her speech, Merkel said human rights were of "critical importance" to Germany, reflecting perceptions that she would make such issues a greater part of her country's relationship with China.
Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, was often accused of stifling such dialogue in pursuit of economic ties.
China's authoritarian communist leaders have said that staging the 2008 Summer Olympics would be a boost to human rights protections in China, and have lifted some restrictions on foreign media through the Olympics.
However, rights monitoring groups say there has been no letup in the persecution of activists or relaxation of media controls. Foreign reporters and people they interview continue to be harassed by authorities.
Earlier Tuesday, Merkel met privately with a group of Chinese journalists and academics, including Li Datong, a veteran journalist forced from a top editing job two years ago for running reports that angered authorities.
Li said Merkel, who grew up under communism in the former East Germany, appeared to have a better understanding of conditions in China than most Western leaders.
"I told her that the government and Communist Party's traditional controls on media have not changed one bit," Li said.
"She mentioned to us that she is familiar with the sort of controls that are in place in a system like this," he said.