Facing history can be painful, but is vital, says Merkel, as she ends China trip

German leader says lessons from wartime must be faced, but avoids direct mention of Japan

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 4:21am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 10:30am

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday it was necessary for her country to reflect upon its wartime history even though the process was painful.

Merkel made the remarks in an address at Tsinghua University before wrapping up her three-day China visit, but added that she was not pointing a finger at Japan.

Trade issues topped the agenda during Merkel's trip, with the two nations signing a series of business deals, but her talks with top Chinese leaders on Monday also coincided with China commemorating the 77th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge incident that sparked the second Sino-Japanese war.

Premier Li Keqiang said at a joint press conference that lessons from history should be kept in mind, but Merkel did not comment.

China and Japan have been at loggerheads over Tokyo's attempt to downplay its aggression towards China during the war.

German officials had said before that Berlin did not want to be involved in exchanges between Beijing and Tokyo. Merkel's speech focused on sustainable development in both nations, but she was asked to comment on how Germany and Japan have dealt with their wartime pasts.

"Every one of us has to reflect on what we have done wrong," Merkel said of Germany's handling of the second world war, adding that many young Germans in the 1960s constantly asked their parents about life under the Nazis.

"This is a painful process," she said.

"But it is the right thing to do. The new generation also has to face history, and this is crucial to avoid repeating mistakes."

Merkel also raised human rights in her address, saying it was important that citizens have trust in the rule of law.

"Future success is shaped by an open, pluralistic and free society," she said.

Ding Chun , an expert in European affairs at Fudan University, said Merkel's remarks did not indicate Germany was siding with China to exert pressure on Japan, with whom Germany also had close economic relations.

"But her remarks will be well received in China, [and] will not cause a diplomatic stir in Japan because she is commenting in response to a question," he said.

Cui Hongjian , of the China Institute of International Studies, said Merkel was merely reiterating Germany's stance on its wartime history.

Beijing and Berlin are both at odds with the United States over cybersecurity and spying. Merkel said on Monday that it would be a "clear contradiction" of trust between Germany and the US if reports that a German intelligence employee spied for the US were true.

Ding said that while grievances against the US provided some common ground for China and Germany, political relations between Berlin and Washington would still be close.