In an opinion piece published Monday in German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote that Beijing's hosting of next month's Olympics would see “a big opening up of China.”
The country must “respond to its growing responsibility,” Steinmeier wrote, adding: “all ethnic groups must have a share in the development of this multicultural nation, where the human rights and fundamental freedoms must be guaranteed and the state and society must open up more.” China's human rights record has come under increasing scrutiny in the run-up to the Games, with its global Olympic flame procession interrupted by pro-Tibet demonstrators in the United States, Britain and France.
Germany, China's biggest trading partner in Europe, drew the ire of Beijing last September when Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a reception to Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The piece goes on to say that in a world which is constantly remaking itself China would have a key role to play. However, “concrete improvements” would be necessary, he said, adding, “we must, of course, discuss Tibet.”
There has been pressure, especially from rights activists, on world leaders to boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on August 8. Neither Merkel nor Steinmeier are attending the Games or the ceremony, but have spoken out against any boycott of the event. Beijing-bound German athletes were on Saturday presented with T-shirts by a group of former competitors, highlighting human rights issues, to take with them to the Olympics.
The T-shirts bore the slogans “Fair Games”, “Sport for Human Rights”, “Celebrate Humanity”, “Free Tibet” and “Free China”.
China has ruled Tibet since 1951, a year after sending troops in to “liberate” the remote Himalayan region. The Dalai Lama fled his homeland in 1959 following a failed uprising and has since lived in exile in India.
China accuses him of being a separatist, but the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner insists he does not want independence for Tibet. However he has repeatedly said he wants greater autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule as well as an end to religious and cultural repression.