‘Soft’ Merkel told to show some backbone and challenge China security crackdown

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The German Chancellor faces criticism for not following Britain’s hardline approach to Beijing’s controversial reforms. Norbert Rottgen, chairman of the influential Budenstag foreign affairs committee, insisted Berlin should finally take sides after remaining neutral for too long. He told the Rheinische Post newspaper: “The language on China must be much clearer: the condemnation of the attack on Hong Kong’s autonomy and the liberties of its citizens must be clearly expressed.”

Mrs Merkel has been reluctant to criticise China behaviour in public in the past, and has so far refused to condemn the new national security law.

She has also refused to take a side in the battle between Beijing and Washington.

Mrs Merkel is said to have taken a light touch approach to China because of Germany’s huge trade reliance on the country.

China is Germany’s third-largest export market and is expected to overtaken the US as the world’s biggest buyer of German cars.

Nils Schmid, the foreign policy spokesman for the Social Democrats, the junior partner in Germany’s grand coalition government, said: “Merkel’s China policy is behind the times.

“She still sticks to this idea of convergence, that as we deepen our economic ties with China, it will become more liberal and western-oriented.

“But that’s just out of date.”

Campaigners have also lashed out at Mrs Merkel for not challenging China over its human right’s record.

Reinhard Butikofer, a Green MEP, said: “For all the benefits that Merkel’s China policy delivered in the past, these days it is behind the curve.

“She doesn’t understand that dialogue with a systematic rival that combines an increasingly totalitarian regime with a claim to hegemony is inevitably going to be a lot different to the dialogue we pursued with China ten years ago.”

But the German Chancellor is now expected to play a much bigger role in organising an EU-wide response to China after assuming the bloc’s rotating presidency.

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Speaking at the European Parliament yesterday, Mrs Merkel said: “We have a trade relationship, but we have different societal and political views, particularly when it comes to human rights and the rule of law.”

The European Union, however, faces a huge challenge in convincing its 27 leaders to sign up to a single approach to China.

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s strongman prime minister, said the bloc was in no position to lecture Beijing.

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He said: “The current leadership of the European Union cannot even solve our own problems, or the surrounding international problems.

“But despite our inability to act we want to tell international partners how to run their own country.”

Mr Orban has deepened Hungary’s trade ties with China in recent years, using its Belt and Road infrastructure project to fund a railway from Budapest to Belgrade.

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