Germany refuses Xi Jinping's request to visit Holocaust memorial sites during tour of Europe

Beijing wanted trip to be part of Xi's itinerary this month

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 1:08pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 5:51pm

Germany has declined two Chinese requests to include Holocaust memorial sites in the official itinerary of President Xi Jinping, who is due to pay a state visit to Europe’s largest economy at the end of the month, a German magazine reported.

Citing government sources, the magazine Der Spiegel said on Tuesday that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government wanted “no part of the East Asian propaganda war” amid rising tensions between China and Japan over the legacy of the war in East Asia.

Beijing planned to make that a key theme of Xi’s trip in an effort to contrast Germany’s atonement for war crimes with Japan’s ambivalent stance.

Merkel’s government declined to include a visit to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin’s largest Holocaust memorial, in the itinerary, Der Spiegel said.

Merkel’s government also declined a Chinese request for a joint visit by Xi and Merkel to the Neue Wache, another war memorial in Berlin.

Xi was, however, welcome to visit the memorials on his own, the sources told the German magazine.

Agreeing to the Chinese request could have upset Japan, said Dr Stephen Nagy, assistant professor at the Department of Japanese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Chancellor Merkel "has delicate balance to walk", he said. "Japan and Germany have deep and broad economic relations, but the German business community also sees a necessity to maintain strong links with Chinese consumers.”

In December, Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe further antagonised China by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in downtown Tokyo, which honours Japan's war-dead, including 14 class-A war criminals convicted by the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in 1947. 

Abe's was the first visit to the shrine by a Japanese prime minister in seven years. It came only months after Abe was photographed on a training jet emblazoned with the number 731, which evoked memories of a Japanese biological and chemical warfare research facility that carried out lethal human experiments in China during the war.

The visit to Berlin will be part of Xi’s first trip to the European Union as head of state. He is expected to participate at the Nuclear Security Summit on March 24 in The Hague in the Netherlands, along with US President Barack Obama.

Xi will then continue his trip to visit Germany, France and Belgium, where he is set to meet the EU leadership.

He last visited Germany as vice president in 2009. Merkel last visited China in 2012.

Then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao visited Auschwitz, the site of Germany’s largest second world war death camp, in Poland in 2012, calling the Holocaust an “unforgettable, dark page in the history of humankind”.