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Viet Nam: “Under no circumstances will we tolerate this kind of thing”

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on the alleged kidnapping of a Vietnamese national in Berlin. Published inter alia in the “Stuttgarter Nachrichten” newspaper (7 August 2017). Turkey also discussed.

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Minister Gabriel, unfortunately German nationals like the journalist Deniz Yücel or the human rights activist Peter Steudtner being thrown into prison in Turkey are no longer isolated cases. What about a Vietnamese businessman and government critic being abducted in the middle of Berlin and removed to Hanoi by the secret service? Will that remain an isolated case?

The actions of the Vietnamese secret services on German soil are utterly unacceptable. I want to say this quite clearly: under no circumstances will we tolerate this kind of thing. Nor will we let it go. That is why we immediately decided to declare one of those responsible persona non grata.

Do you think the Vietnamese Government will be willing to return Trinh Xuan Thanh to Berlin quickly?

We have informed the Vietnamese Government in no uncertain terms of our position and our expectations. There has been no official response as yet. But we reserve the right to take further measures if necessary.

What measures might be considered to get the man back after all?

I don’t think this is the right place to spell that out. But obviously we cannot simply go back to business as usual, as if nothing had happened. We have achieved a great deal in our bilateral relations over the last few years. Trade and investment have developed at a terrific rate; Viet Nam is celebrating substantial growth and many good and important development projects are ongoing in the country. All of which makes it even harder to understand why the Vietnamese side is clearly ready to jeopardise everything. What happened in Berlin at the end of July is putting enormous strain on German‑Vietnamese relations. The German business community is understandably scared, not least because some people in positions of responsibility in Viet Nam clearly have no respect for the partnership with Germany or for laws and rules.

Let’s leave this new trouble spot and return to a familiar old one. The coup in Turkey took place just over a year ago. Do you see any sign that the Turkish President might move back to a moderate, more democratic course?

The change of course in Turkey did not happen overnight. The failed coup was possibly more of a catalyst than a turning‑point for President Erdoğan’s policies. For years we have been growing increasingly concerned at restrictions on the freedom of the press, the treatment of the Kurdish minority, and other things too. As much as I wish I could say otherwise, I do not see any indication of a fundamental change in policy at the moment. We are prepared to extend a hand to Turkey. But if we are to make a fresh start, there need to be changes in Ankara, in both tone and substance.

What triggered the adjustment of Germany’s policy regarding Turkey?

The arbitrary arrest of Peter Steudtner, a respectable German, is simply completely unacceptable. We were forced to see that our patience and our readiness to engage in a fair dialogue just did not pay. On the contrary, it got worse every time. There are now nine Germans who have no idea what crimes they are being accused of or who are having to fight far‑fetched accusations. No‑one who treats Germans in this way can seriously expect us to carry on with our political and economic relations as if everything in the garden were rosy.

Doesn’t that mean that the talks on Turkey’s accession to the EU should be broken off?

At its core, the European Union is a community of shared values. Turkey has long wanted to become part of this community. But in that case it needs to accept our European values as its own and act accordingly. So it is up to Turkey to decide what path it wants to take: towards the West, towards Europe, with democracy and the rule of law, separation of powers, freedom of the press and freedom of opinion, or towards the East, a region rife with conflicts and tensions. I believe and hope that the people in Turkey know which decisions of historic import should best be taken for them and for their country.

Interview conducted by Bärbel Krauss

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