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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Steinmeier's bad example

May 16, 2008

The International Herald Tribune
May 14, 2008

Last September, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel courageously broke
ranks with her predecessors and met with the Dalai Lama. China
predictably threw a tantrum, soon joined by Merkel's own vice
chancellor and foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who accused
her of trying to "showcase" human rights.

Now Steinmeier has one-upped himself, refusing to meet with the Dalai
Lama when he comes to Germany on Friday, while Merkel is out of the
country. The Foreign Ministry said Steinmeier was too busy. He did
find time to go to Russia - the first senior European official to
congratulate the new president, Dmitri Medvedev, and the new prime
minister, Vladimir Putin.

Merkel and Steinmeier come from competing parties - she from the
Christian Democrats, he the Social Democrats - and their service in
the same government is a matter of necessity, not preference. Still
it is astounding that Steinmeier would so brazenly break ranks with
the head of his own government on a matter as fundamental as human
rights. It is even more outrageous that he would continue to pander
to China after Beijing's brutal crackdown in Tibet.

The signal to China, and to any other government that routinely
violates human rights, is that Germany can't and won't do anything
about it. If leaders of major countries like Germany shun the Dalai
Lama, Beijing will find it much easier to dismiss him and refuse to
negotiate an autonomy agreement with Tibet.

Steinmeier's defenders will undoubtedly argue that "quiet diplomacy"
is better than well-publicized public meetings. But meeting leaders
like the Dalai Lama, and trying to mediate between him and Beijing,
is what foreign ministers are supposed to do. Steinmeier's record, in
this government and under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, is one of
appeasement, whether it be China, Putin or Uzbekistan's Islam
Karimov. If he has been involved in quiet diplomacy, it is hard to
find evidence of it in any of those countries.

Cutting personal deals with authoritarian governments is not our job
description for a foreign minister; nor is snubbing defenders of
human rights such as the Dalai Lama. Germany deserves better.
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