Even if Mrs. Merkel decides to keep the tone at dinner cordial, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has already announced he would use Tuesday’s German-Chinese government consultations to bring up the issue of human rights in China. “It’s a fact that in spite of his release, Ai Weiwei is still under oppressive restrictions,” Mr. Westerwelle told German newspaper “Die Welt.” “In the past few months, we received a number of alarming and sad news concerning human rights in China. But compared to 15 years ago, the situation has improved.”
In April, German media quoted a personal letter in which Chancellor Merkel asked for Ai Weiwei – a popular artist in Germany, with a guest professorship at Berlin’s University of the Arts – to be set free. The chancellery denied the letter's existence, but did so conveniently late, after the news had spread.
Professor Sandschneider counsels caution in ascribing the dissidents' release to German pressure. “Whoever believes that Chinese politics can be influenced by exerting pressure on Beijing is underestimating Chinese self-confidence,” he says. “We shouldn’t even try to link issues like trade and human rights. It’s counterproductive. It doesn’t mean we have to be silent, though.”