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German-Chinese `Irritations' Don't Impress Merkel, Aide Says

November 23, 2007

By Andreas Cremer

Nov. 19 (Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel has no regrets
about hosting the Dalai Lama at her office two months ago although the
meeting has cast a shadow over relations with China.

``There are irritations at present, no doubt about that,'' spokesman
Thomas Steg told a regular news conference in Berlin today. Still,
Merkel ``won't allow anyone to dictate to her whom she meets and
where,'' he said, adding that the chancellor wouldn't reverse her
decision to meet the Dalai Lama if she could.

A planned visit by German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck to China in
December was called off last week, the latest in a series of meetings
canceled since Merkel met the exiled Tibetan leader on Sept. 23. Germany
and China share ``principal differences'' about the Dalai Lama, Steg said.

Japanese government officials refused to meet the Dalai Lama during a
visit Nov. 15, to avoid offending China. Conversely, President George W.
Bush presented the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal at a
ceremony in the U.S. Capital last month, drawing criticism from China's
government.

Tibet, under Chinese authority since the 1750s, had varying degrees of
autonomy until the Chinese Communist Party arrived in 1950, prompting a
failed revolt in 1959, after which the Dalai Lama fled to India. The
Dalai Lama has since called for Tibetan self-rule and religious freedom
from the Chinese Communist Party.

Bridging the Gap

Steg said Germany trusts that ``commonalities'' will help overcome the
fissures. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who will this week
assume the role of Vice-Chancellor in Merkel's Cabinet, said Germany is
interested ``in restoring the good relations with China,'' according to
today's edition of the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper.

Two months ago, Steinmeier himself put up with Chinese disgruntlement
about Merkel's talks with the Dalai Lama when his Chinese counterpart
canceled a planned breakfast during the annual United Nations General
Assembly in New York in September.

A Chinese delegation also canceled a planned attendance at an annual
conference on judicial issues in Munich on Sept. 23. A meeting of deputy
foreign ministers in October to discuss economic issues and human rights
matters was also called off.

``This is a development that we cannot allow to persist,'' the newspaper
quoted Steinmeier as saying.

Unlike Steinmeier's Social Democratic Party, whose former Chancellor
Gerhard Schroeder even campaigned for lifting the European Union's arms
embargo against China, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union pursues a
more cautious approach to the Asian nation.

``China, to a growing extent, is confronting the West with the question
about systems and views itself as an alternative political model that
challenges the economic and political interests of Germany and the EU
outside Europe,'' according to a strategy paper on Asia drawn up by the
parliamentary delegation of Merkel's party.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andreas Cremer in Berlin at
acremer@bloomberg.net .
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