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Merkel Takes a Principled Stand on Foreign Policy

Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of the more remarkable leaders in Europe today for her demonstrated willingness to stand by principles in foreign policy. Surrounded by cowardice in the SPD, who lambaste her for having invited the Dalai Lama to Germany, led by Frank-Walter Steinmeier who is one call away from carrying out the orders of Vladimir Putin, and business leaders like Wulf Bernotat who regularly berate the work of the European Commission to argue for Gazprom’s rights to put their direct grip on consumers, Merkel’s thankless stand on human rights stands out in contrast. From the IHT report “Merkel defends German foreign policy focused on human rights“:

Chancellor Angela Merkel defended her controversial policy toward China and Russia on Wednesday, insisting that it could no longer be separated from domestic policy. In a speech to the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of Parliament, to mark two years of the grand coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats, Merkel sharpened the explanation of her foreign policy.

While in the past she has tended to refer in general to the ideas of freedom, she went further Wednesday, saying that “the foreign and security policy of the government was built on values.” That meant, she said, that “human rights and economic interests are one side of the same medal and should never stand in opposition to each other.”Her remarks went to the heart of a broader debate in the European Union about how the bloc should manage its relationship with key economic partners like China and Russia, whose governments continue to violate democratic standards. Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France have both pledged to break with the rhetoric of unconditional support characteristic of their predecessors.During a three-day visit to China this week, Sarkozy replaced the notion of a “strategic partnership” in a multipolar world that was promoted by his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, with a demand on China to live up to its “responsibility” as a major economic power. He pressed Beijing to allow its currency to appreciate against the dollar, and warned his counterpart, Hu Jintao, of import penalties if Beijing failed to agree to carbon emission cuts in the next round of international climate talks.But as business chiefs traveling with the president signed contracts worth more than €20 billion, or nearly $30 billion, Sarkozy was more muted than Merkel, prompting some to question his resolve to live up to his avowed “moral foreign policy.”Unlike Merkel on her recent visit to China, Sarkozy said little publicly about human rights – and he did not take his human rights minister, Rama Yade, who often accompanies him abroad. Yade had been told she would not be part of the delegation, which included seven other ministers. Sarkozy’s office played down Yade’s absence, saying that it did not stop the president from speaking about human rights in private and in public.Sarkozy’s final speech on Tuesday included a reference to “France’s attachment to additional progress, in particular for the rule of law, journalist activity and the death penalty.”Merkel, in comparison, visited non-governmental organizations, dissidents and independent journalists. Sarkozy did not meet with any dissidents, although his justice minister did.Sarkozy reaffirmed France’s support for lifting the EU arms embargo on China, which was imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. He also said that “France is not in favor of Taiwan’s independence,” and called moves by Taiwanese leaders to prepare a referendum on the issue for 2008 “unjustified.”And in contrast to Merkel, who received the Dalai Lama in September at the Chancellery, Sarkozy said that Tibet was “part of China” and suggested that Beijing improve the dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s delegates.”You have to pick your battles,” said one French official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.Sarkozy returned with a €12 billion order for 160 Airbus planes and an €8 billion deal to supply two third-generation nuclear reactors, among other contracts, while Merkel returned empty-handed.”The test of Sarkozy’s commitment to human rights isn’t the easy cases when nothing is at stake,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, the U.S.-based advocacy organization. “It’s important that his commitment not vary with the thickness of his interlocutor’s wallet.”According to François Godement, director of the Asia Center at the European Council on Foreign Relations, Merkel has more room to scold Beijing.Big contracts matter proportionally more to France than to Germany, he said, because France’s sales account for less than 1.5 percent of Chinese imports, compared with 5 percent for Germany. He also pointed out that the Airbus contracts benefited Germany as much as France because the Airbus parent company, EADS, is a consortium dominated by both French and German shareholders.”It is provincial to consider making foreign visits in order to lobby for our security, our environment and our well-being less important” than domestic politics, Merkel said Wednesday. “Today, there is no longer such a clear line between domestic and foreign policy. It is wrong and superfluous to play political values and economic success against each other as if only one or the other is important. They belong together.”So far, the chancellor has won broad public support for this stance. Despite that, her coalition partners, the Social Democrats, languishing far behind the conservatives in opinion polls, have targeted Merkel’s foreign policy. They claim that her insistence on raising human rights during seminars, speeches and public gatherings in Russia, and particularly in China, has damaged Germany’s economic relations.What triggered this shift in direction was Merkel’s meeting with the Dalai Lama. At the time, the Social Democrats said nothing about the visit while Chinese officials in Beijing and Berlin went on the offensive, canceling high-level visits and attendance at trade fairs and warning Germany of serious consequences. The Social Democrats, supported by the powerful Federation of German Industry, said this week that Merkel’s attitude toward China was damaging for economic ties.Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Social Democrat foreign minister and vice chancellor, has questioned Merkel’s foreign policy, as has her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder. Steinmeier was Schröder’s chief of staff from 1999 to 2005 and has won little support for his criticism of Merkel because of the way Schröder unswervingly promoted German economic interests in Russia and China at the expense of human rights issues.