Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao’s European visit this week underscores how trade opportunities are outweighing human rights concerns. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s is China with a party of several hundred business leaders and Italy’s International Trade Minister Emma Bonino said: “China is a country which has problems, but it offers a great opportunity for everyone. It is for that reason that Italy wants to be there.” Last year Europe overtook the US as China’s top trading partner and Wen’s visit, which began with a summit with EU leaders in Finland and then took him to London and Berlin, coincided with a number of business deals. They included a major contract with Finnish mobile phone maker Nokia, the announcement a new factory in China for car-maker DaimlerChrysler and bolstered trade agreements with Germany and Britain.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel did bring up human rights in talks Wen, but not very strongly. Trade between China and the European Union last year totalled 180 billion euros and in the first half of this year reached 97 billion euros with Germany, the Netherlands and Britain the biggest trading partners. During Wen’s visit, European criticism of China has focused on copyright issues and trade imbalances – not civil rights. Wen committed to respecting intellectual property rights. He said China would improve its mechanisms for strengthening both administrative and legal protections.