Sunday, September 2, 2007

More on Merkel

Making freedom one of the main themes of both her domestic and foreign policy, Angela Merkel isn’t mealy mouthed about human rights. Where former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder spoke only behind closed doors to his Russian or Chinese counterparts on the subject of human rights, Merkel (right), just named the most powerful woman in the world, has publicly denounced increased human rights and press freedom violations in Russia and raised human rights issues several times during her visit this past week to China (she's also told President Bush to shut down Guantánamo and criticized both torture and the death penalty). Everywhere, she makes a point of meeting with opposition leaders, as she did in China, meeting with journalists, a photographer and well known blogger who’ve all run into trouble for criticizing the government. Germany’s business leaders are not so happy about Merkel’s outspokenness, fearing it will hinder trade. Indeed, where Schröder brought back lucrative contracts from Russia and China, Merkel has been less successful. But German politicians say this has nothing to do with Merkel’s human rights stance: business is bad for everyone in Russia right now, and it’s harder to win contracts in China as competition stiffens. Obviously, Merkel’s East German upbringing is what makes the difference. Perhaps the fact that she knows what she’s talking about will make a difference with her audiences as well, encouraging opposition and getting human rights onto the agenda.

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