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China's Wen blames US for difficulties in ties

China PM says still hopes to visit Taiwan one day
Beijing (AFP) March 14, 2010 - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Sunday he hoped one day to visit Taiwan, amid warming relations between Beijing and the self-ruled island. "Differences between brothers cannot sever their blood ties and I believe that problems will eventually be solved," Wen told a press conference at the end of China's annual session of parliament. "I still cherish a very strong wish to visit Taiwan one day," he added, noting that 5,000 years of shared culture and history should not be swept away because of "political developments" over the past 60 years. Taiwan split from the mainland in 1949 at the end of a bloody civil war. China still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary. Tensions have however eased markedly since Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008 on a China-friendly platform. China and Taiwan are in negotiations on a major trade pact, the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, which is expected to boost trade across the Taiwan Strait by easing barriers. Taipei hopes to sign the pact in May or June to help boost economic growth and employment. The first round of negotiations on the pact took place in January. Wen earlier this month hailed the thaw in relations with Taiwan, saying ties had in 2009 "made important progress from a historic new starting point, and a positive trend toward peaceful development emerged".
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) March 14, 2010
The United States is to blame for recent tensions in Sino-US ties and must take steps to repair the damage, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Sunday, indicating no let-up in their diplomatic row.

Wen accused Washington of violating China's sovereignty when it approved the sale of billions of dollars in weapons to Taiwan in January, and again when US President Barack Obama met the Dalai Lama at the White House last month.

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated over a series of other issues -- Google's threat to leave China over cyberattacks and web censorship, a string of trade disputes, and the value of the Chinese yuan.

Wen, addressing hundreds of reporters at the end of China's annual session of parliament, said relations between the world's biggest and third-largest economies "got off to a good start" after Obama took office in January 2009.

But Washington's moves on self-ruled Taiwan, which China sees as part of its territory, and Obama's meeting with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader had "violated China's sovereignty" and provoked "serious disturbances" in ties.

"The responsibility does not lie with the Chinese side but with the US," Wen said.

"We hope the US will face the issues squarely and take concrete steps" to remedy the situation, he added, while declining to offer specifics.

"A peaceful US-China relationship makes both countries winners," Wen told reporters.

"It's better to have dialogue rather than confrontation, cooperation rather than containment and partnership rather than rivalry."

Washington in January approved the sale of 6.4 billion dollars in arms to self-ruled Taiwan, which China sees as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Last month, Obama met the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, at the White House. Beijing says the Buddhist monk is bent on independence for the Himalayan region, a charge he denies.

On the yuan, Wen warned foreign countries it would resist outside pressure, after Obama last week called on Beijing to adopt a "market-oriented" policy on the currency, which has been effectively pegged to the dollar since mid-2008.

"We are opposed to the practice of engaging in mutual finger-pointing among countries or taking strong measures to force other countries to appreciate their currencies," Wen said.

Washington has led calls for a stronger yuan, saying the currency is kept intentionally low to boost Chinese exports.

Asked about the flap surrounding Google, Wen tip-toed around the question, repeating only that China was open to foreign companies wishing to set up shop in the Asian giant.

"China will unswervingly pursue the policy of opening up to the outside world. Foreign businesses are welcome to come to China to establish businesses... according to the law," the premier said.

Wen said foreign businesses would enjoy the same treatment as local companies and expressed the hope that they would build more research and development centres.

Google threatened in January to abandon its Chinese-language search engine and perhaps leave China altogether over what it said were cyberattacks aimed at its source code and at the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

The US Internet giant -- which says it is in talks with the Chinese government about its future in the country -- has also said it is no longer willing to bow to Chinese government censors by filtering its search results.

China's minister of industry and information technology, Li Yizhong, warned Google last week that it would face "consequences" if it were to violate Chinese law by ending its filters, saying such a move would be "irresponsible".

The Financial Times reported at the weekend that Google was "99.9 percent" certain to move forward with plans to abandon, citing an unnamed source with knowledge of the company's position.

earlier related report
You are now entering Checkpoint 'McCharlie'
Berlin (AFP) March 14, 2010 - Checkpoint Charlie, a world-famous symbol of the Cold War that until 1989 was the front line between two nuclear-armed superpowers, is getting its own McDonalds. For many, this is the final straw.

Where once US and Soviet tanks faced off as the whole world held its breath, there are now actors posing as soldiers in American or Soviet uniforms stamping tourists' passports or posing in photos -- for a fee.

And next to the replica "You are now entering the American sector" sign, souvenir shops and stalls sell chunks of the Berlin Wall and pieces of Cold War kitsch like toy "Trabi" cars and Soviet military hats.

Other hot items include T-shirts showing Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's famous kiss with East German strongman Eric Honecker, a common sign of socialist solidarity that triggered ridicule in the West -- and was later satirized in a mural on the Berlin Wall after it was breached in November 1989.

Vernon Pike, a former US army colonel who used to command Checkpoint Charlie, was so incensed that he fired off an angry letter to the Berlin authorities in 2008, calling the transformation "an unacceptable spectacle".

This January an immense billboard advert by a clothes company went up featuring a young woman wearing the maker's jeans -- and flashing her top half to a security camera.

There is already a Starbucks, and the "Golden Arches" logo will later this year adorn a building currently occupied by eateries including a sushi outlet, a kebab shop and a pizzeria, irreverently known as "Snackpoint Charlie".

"This is really a very strange place," Simone Bernaert, 62, a retired and unimpressed university lecturer from Paris visiting Berlin, told AFP.

Checkpoint Charlie, to add insult to injury, is one of the few remaining reminders that Berlin used to be a divided city.

"It's just difficult to visualise what it was like ... It would have been nice if they had tried to preserve it a little bit." Amy O'Brian, 21, a student from Dublin, told AFP. "It looks like any other European city really."

In fact, tourists could be forgiven for being unaware that the German Democratic Republic (GDR), as the misleadingly named communist country was known, ever existed at all, critics grumble.

Other landmarks have also gone, most notably the immense steel and glass "Palast der Republik", the GDR's parliament building, razed last year to make room for a reconstruction of a Prussian palace knocked down by the communists.

There are only a few stretches of the Berlin Wall left, one of which, at Bernauer Strasse, is said to be in danger of collapse.

This has been accompanied by a phenomenon called "Ostalgie", nostalgia for all things East German ("Ost"), as exemplified by the 2003 film "Good Bye Lenin!", and "ironic" tours for tourists in restored "Trabis".

-- Changing times --


"I am worried by the fact that as the years go by, the GDR's image is getting more and more positive," says Hubertus Knabe, director of the Berlin-Hohenschoenhausen former GDR jail for political prisoners, now a museum.

"The most visible wounds of the border regime have almost all been got rid of. There are only a few bit left of the Berlin Wall, and they are pretty harmless-looking."

But visitors also understand that Berlin is moving on.

As well as being a city with lots of history, not just from its 45 years of post-war division, but also from the Nazi era back to Prussian imperialism and further back.

It is also a metropolis that almost three and a half million people call home -- and who don't want to live in a museum.

"I don't know if people come here with the preconception that the Wall is still standing," wonders Sophia Quint, who works in Berlin's marketing department.

"People always ask: 'Where is the Wall, where was the Wall?'," she told AFP.

And there is little that the authorities can do to improve Checkpoint Charlie, she says.

"Tourists seem to like it. You can see clearly at Checkpoint Charlie how many people have their photos taken. If tourists like that, and think it's a good thing, we've got nothing against it," she said. "It is not in our power to do anything."

"What else are they going to do with it? It's a bit of history that no one is proud of. Things move on, I suppose," says Ron Scanlon, 42, a paramedic from Australia touring Germany on holiday, at Checkpoint Charlie.

Simone Bernaert agrees: "Life goes on ... When you live through something in the moment, you don't necessarily have the distance to be able to say that later on, it will be history."

And as for McDonalds, some even see it as the ultimate victory over communism -- or at least as somewhere for visitors to get a burger and fries.

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