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Human rights dialogue with China: “very laborious and lengthy process”

16.05.2013 - Interview

Markus Löning, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy, on his talks at the 11th German-Chinese Human Rights Dialogue in Yinchuan (Ningxia Province). Broadcast on Deutschlandfunk on 16 May 2013

Markus Löning, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy, on his talks at the 11th German-Chinese Human Rights Dialogue in Yinchuan (Ningxia Province).Broadcast on Deutschlandfunk on 16 May 2013

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Germany and China have many forums for dialogue, more than 40 in total. Many of them at high levels of government between Ministers, State Secretaries and heads of government agencies.And there is the German-Chinese Human Rights Dialogue, which was just held, yesterday and the day before, to be exact.On the line from China I welcome the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy, Markus Löning of the FDP.Good morning!

Good morning.

Mr Löning, where exactly are you right now?

Right now I am in Guangzhou. Yesterday and the day before, I was in central China in the Ningxia province for the dialogue and was in Peking before that.

Who did you hold talks with?

The dialogue itself is always between me and my counterpart, who heads a directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as with experts from various other ministries. There are representatives from the Ministry of Justice; there was a judge from the Supreme People’s Court and representatives from other fields covering, for example, social affairs and labour. So there is a broad range of government representatives participating in the actual dialogue, but around this I hold a whole series of other talks, for example in Guangzhou with representatives of migrant workers.

So you hold talks; let us stick with the official part briefly.How does that work?The representative of the Federal Republic of Germany demands that human rights be better respected and protected and the other side says its doing all it can?

That is a much shortened version. We do of course put questions to each other and express criticism of each respective situation. We always have a general part, in which we discuss a broad range of issues, and there is a specific part, which was the topic of minorities just now. This time, at my invitation, Kenan Kolat, head of the Turkish Community in Germany came with us and explained the Turkish minority’s situation to the Chinese. We were in an area with a large Muslim minority, so he asked about the situation of the minorities there, about Uighurs, about Tibet. All that played a role in this area.

... played a role.How open was the Chinese side, then?

Let us say, if we take the topics that are usually brought up, the rule of law, the justice system, then it is always the same: they of course recognize that much is to be done, the judicial system is far from perfect. On these objective points there is indeed acknowledgement of our criticism or our questions. It gets difficult when it is a question of political liberty, when we push for freedom of the media to be respected, that relatives of a political dissident cannot be held liable for that person’s actions, when we push for freedom of opinion and for demonstrations and the like, for political speech. Then the other side, let us say, at least rolls their eyes a bit. In such cases they also deny that we are interpreting the facts correctly.

Does that mean you did not achieve anything?

The human rights dialogue hardly ever yields tangible, concrete results. It is always about explaining our positions in the forum. It is at least a discussion that lasted six hours in which we could present the whole spectrum of our concerns and questions calmly to the Chinese side. In the four times I have participated, I have never seen the others say, man, good that you said that, finally we have got it. Rather it is a very laborious and lengthy process. What we do accomplish is calling attention to individual cases. Dissidents I talk to, people who are already in exile, for example Chen Guangcheng, who was in Berlin a few weeks ago, tell me, like he did, that it is very good that the German side always asks these questions and he says very clearly, although the government always denies it, that that is the way things are. They always appreciate our message and of course things like that kick-start action in the background.

Mr Löning, you are the head of the German side in the human rights dialogue for the fourth time,as you just said.How successful have you been?In your opinion, have there been any positive changes in the human rights situation in China in the last four years?

If we look at China over the last twenty or thirty years, we can see enormous social progress and many Chinese subjectively feel that personally they have good life prospects. But on the other hand, it is still a very, very difficult situation in terms of political rights. There is a whole series of topics that are absolutely taboo, especially concerning the Communist Party’s monopoly on power; the repression is very tough. You can see that there is movement; you can see that efforts are being made to improve things. It is difficult to make a direct connection between that and the human rights dialogue. It is very hard to present a tightly-linked chain of causality, but I think that in our relationship to the Chinese it is important to bring up the difficult issues again and again. I think we owe that to those who are fighting for political freedom here in China and who always reiterate that it is so important for us to support them.

You mentioned the situation of minorities and also that you were able to speak with migrant workers.What is your impression of their situation?

The situation is really mixed. Yesterday, for example, we toured a textile factory where they are attempting to keep people from leaving central China by trying to provide work for them there to help their prospects. That is not easy and it is not always successful, but we see that the state has a certain feeling of responsibility. If I look at the situation of the migrant workers on the coast or here in Guangzhou where China’s production is, the world’s production, then the situation is objectively very bad. However, you can see that improvements have been made in small steps and that there is an objective interest in talking to us about situations in the social security system, about what can be done.

It is not the case that repression is the only answer. There is really an interest in improving the situation. The many strikes of recent years have had an effect. You can see that pay is improving, that the situation is improving in infinitesimal steps.

Markus Löning, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy, in China for the 11th German-Chinese Human Rights Dialogue, bringing us his impressions directly from there.Thank you for speaking with us today, Mr Löning.

Thank you, Ms Klein.

Questions: Bettina Klein. Reproduced here by kind permission of Deutschlandfunk.

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