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HVK Archives: Kohl Comfort - Germany and Tibet

Kohl Comfort - Germany and Tibet - Far Eastern Economic Review

Hugh Williamson in Bonn ()
27 June 1996


Title : Kohl Comfort
German chancellor disappoints Tibet support group
Author : Hugh Williamson in Bonn
Publication : Far Eastern Economic Review
Date : June 27, 1996

Back off on human rights, and prosper. That's the message
Beijing is giving its European trade partners, and
Germany is buying. On Tibet, for instance, Chancellor
Helmut Kohl seems ready to placate Beijing in order to
preserve his country's economic interests in China.

The chancellor showed proof of his faith in mid-June,
when his government tried to distance itself
energetically from an international conference on Tibet
in Bonn. The event, titled the "Second International
Conference of Tibet Support Groups," brought together
the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader; top officials
of the self-declared Tibetan government in exile, and
more than 260 delegates from Tibet support groups in 56

China repeatedly called on Bonn to cancel the event. It
also shut the Beijing office of Germany's Friedrich
Naumann Foundation, which co-hosted the forum with the
Tibetan government in exile, and urged Kohl's government
to act against "certain people inside Germany who
always interfere in the internal affairs of China."

The Germans were ready to oblige. Kohl and Foreign
Minister Klaus Kinkel cancelled a $190,000 government
grant for the conference, and tried to block a related
all-party parliamentary motion criticizing the Chinese
presence in Tibet. Bonn also demanded that Tibetan
leaders travelling from their exile base in the north
Indian town of Dharamsala sign a statement saying that
they would be in Germany as private citizens, not as
representatives of the government-in-exile. But this the
Tibetans refused to do, forcing Germany to drop the
demand, and the conference went ahead. Bonn's actions
drew sharp criticism. "The Chinese don't take Germany
seriously because talk about human rights always results
in nothing," commented the Sitediletitsclie Zeitung, a
leading newspaper.

But this is unlikely to dent Kohl's China policy of
wandel durch handel, or reform through trade. Indeed, the
chancellor has much to lose by giving in to anti-Beijing
forces, having spent hundreds of millions of marks
subsidizing the entry of Siemens, Volkswagen and other
German firms into the Chinese market.

Meanwhile, analysts agree that China's attempts to mute
its overseas critics are set to gain momentum. In early
June, Beijing blocked Chinese artists from attending a
festival in Munich celebrating the culture of China
because it included a workshop on human rights.

China expert Rudolf Wagner of Heidelberg University says
Beijing's "calculated overreaction" to such minor events
"aims to make governments think twice on political
criticism of China." He says the tactic works because
"China has successfully locked the fantasy of its
economic potential in people's minds."

This point was not lost on the Tibetans gathered in Bonn.
They decided to focus more intently on lobbying
international institutions such as the UN and the Group
of Seven industrialized countries, rather than individual
countries, to prevent China playing Western nations off
against each other.

Otherwise, says Lodi Gyari, a special assistant to the
Dalai Lama who runs the international support campaign
for Tibet, what happened in Germany could happen
everywhere. "Germany blinked so many times, and sent the
signal to China that they are vulnerable to pressure.
They've created a precedent and will keep having a
problem with China," lie says.

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