Germany tries to calm waters with China after Dalai Lama visitBERLIN (AFP) — Germany moved on Monday to control damage to its diplomatic ties with China a day after Chancellor Angela Merkel angered Beijing by holding an historic meeting with the Dalai Lama.
China, Germany's top trade partner in the Asia-Pacific region, has cancelled two top-level meetings in apparent retaliation for the chancellor's talks with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader on Sunday.
Merkel signalled that she supported the Dalai Lama's quest for cultural autonomy for the Himalayan region, sticking to the course she steered during a visit to China in August in which she readily tackled human rights issues.
On Monday, Berlin announced that Beijing has called off a standing breakfast meeting between the countries' foreign ministers in New York on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly because of "scheduling difficulties."
German government spokesman Thomas Steg insisted that Germany valued its diplomatic and economic ties with China and believed that these would not suffer serious damage as a result of Sunday's unprecedented meeting.
"The government has a great interest in preserving and deepening its good relations with China," he told a press briefing, but added that Merkel believes "human rights cannot be sacrificed for economic reasons."
Steg said Merkel's foreign policy adviser had called the Chinese ambassador to Berlin on Monday to stress the importance of solid ties, but also to defend the meeting with the highly popular Buddhist leader.
Advisor Christoph Heusgen assured Ambassador Ma Canrong that outspoken support for Tibetan cultural autonomy did not mean that Berlin was pushing for independence for the region.
"He called the Chinese ambassador in Berlin today to inform him about the talks with the Dalai Lama but also to make clear that this conversation is something totally natural. It should be possible and it should be possible without harming German-Chinese ties," Steg said.
"We are not questioning China's territorial integrity. He made it clear that there is no change in Germany's policy towards China ... we trust that this will be relayed to Beijing."
Foreign affairs spokesman Martin Jaeger said Berlin is trying to find a suitable time for a meeting in New York between Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi this week still.
"We have heard from the Chinese side that this breakfast will not be able to take place this year because of time constraints," Jaeger said.
"We have taken note and we are trying to deal with it and I believe that we will manage. We are talking with our Chinese contacts to try and find another time to meet within the week."
Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries, who was stood up by Chinese officials on Sunday at a bilateral justice forum, said she was also trying to reschedule and mitigate diplomatic fallout.
"We hope that this dialogue will not suffer lasting damage," she said.
Frank Umbach, the head of the research unit on China at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told AFP that Beijing's indignant response could prove to be a storm in a teacup.
"It is very important for China to save face, and the reaction is hardly surprising if you take into account China's track record in such cases. We saw the same in the 1990s towards France when it sold weaponry to Taiwan."
"But I do not think we will see lasting damage. One cannot totally exclude that German companies may face more difficulties but not anything major."
Umbach said German business should draw comfort from the fact that other European countries that are home to competing companies were largely in line with Merkel's stance on China.
"Merkel has been very consistent and predictable on human rights towards China and also Russia. And over the past two years, there has been a 180 degree turn among European Union members and a new consensus has emerged."
be in deep water (ALSO get into deep water)
to be in or get into serious trouble:
The government is in deep water over its plans for tax increases.
fish in troubled waters UK
to try to gain an advantage from a difficult situation or from someone else's problems
pour oil on troubled waters UKto do or say something in order to make people stop arguing and become calmer:
My husband's always arguing with my father, and I'm the one who has to pour oil on troubled waters.
muddy the waters
to make a situation more confused and less easy to understand or deal with
test the water(s)
to find out what people's opinions of something are before you ask them to do something
Still waters run deep. SAYING
said about a person who says little, but who might in fact know a lot