Merkel calls on China to abide by WTO duties

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, on Tuesday called on Beijing to abide by its duties as a member of the World Trade Organisation and promised to take up the complaints of German investors in China with the European Commission.

?We must make it clear (to China that WTO membership) carries certain obligations,? Ms Merkel told German business leaders in Shanghai. ?This membership does not come for free.?

The chancellor, who ended her three-day visit to China after meeting with Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, the president and prime minister respectively, has sought to strike a new tone in Germany?s relationship with China.

Departing from the approach of Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schr?der, her two predecessors, aides to the chancellor said Ms Merkel had sought to establish ?a rapport between equals?, combining praise for China?s achievements with clear reminders of the duties these entail.

?As China?s role in world politics grows, it will have to rise to new responsibilities,? Ms Merkel said. ?It can no longer see itself as an upstart but as an equal partner we can self-confidently demand certain things from.?

Her pitch during her visit to China, her first as chancellor, mirrors the approach and rhetoric of Washington, which has pressed Beijing to become a ?responsible stakeholder? in global politics.

As well as stressing the importance of China as a market, she criticised the country?s human rights record, its cosy relationships with Iran and Sudan, its patchy approach to fighting piracy, and its reluctance to let its currency fluctuate.

?People here tell me they have never heard such clear words from a German chancellor before,? Michael Glos, Ms Merkel?s economics minister, told the Financial Times. ?That is new. In the past, we used to come here just as salesmen.?

Ms Merkel told representatives of the 800 German companies in Shanghai, a region that attracts half of all German investment in the country, that they should bundle their complaints and that her government would pass these on to Brussels.

China, now the world?s fourth largest economy and third largest trader, joined the WTO in 2001 on a timetable which sets a deadline of the end of this year for the implementation of many of its commitments.

Such complaints include alleged attempts by China to circumvent its WTO obligations by erecting non-tariff barriers that make it difficult or expensive for foreign companies to import components or that force them to transfer some of their proprietary technology to local competitors.

?Some machines, for instance, cannot be imported without cumbersome certification procedures,? Peter Borger of engineering group Siemens said. ?In addition, access to some markets, such as energy or rail, remains de facto closed to foreign players.?

Ms Merkel also urged German businesses, as representatives of a corporate culture of social responsibility, to act as agents of change in support of China?s emerging civil society.

She underlined her appeal for more freedom of religion by visiting Aloysius Jin, a 91-year old Catholic bishop, at Shanghai?s Saint Ignatius Cathedral. A fluent German speaker, partly educated in the Rhineland, Mr Jin was imprisoned by the Chinese regime from 1955 to 1983.

Separately, people close to Siemens said negotiations over a contract to build a 175km maglev railway link between Shanghai and Hangzhou, at an estimated cost of ?3.6bn, could not be completed in time for Ms Merkel?s visit.

They said German negotiators had refused to bow to Chinese requests for German government funding and what they interpreted as pressure from the Chinese side to complete the talks before the chancellor?s arrival.

The link would be the first long-distance route in the world for the so-called Transrapid, the levitating train built by Siemens. A shorter link is already in operation between Shanghai?s Pudong airport and the city centre.

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