China and Germany in row over Berlin's support for Hong Kong activists

Justin Huggler
China is furious at a meeting between democracy activists Joshua Wong (left) and Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister (right) in Berlin - DPA

China summoned the German ambassador on Wednesday amid a rapidly escalating row over a Hong Kong democracy activist's visit to Berlin.

Beijing reacted with anger after Joshua Wong, a prominent figure in the protest movement gripping Hong Kong, met with the German foreign minister in Berlin this week.

“We have expressed our deep discontent,” the Chinese ambassador to Germany, Wu Ken, told a press conference in Berlin. “Do not interfere in the internal affairs of China and Hong Kong.”

Describing Mr Wong as a “riotmaker” and the protests in Hong Kong as “almost terrorist”, the Chinese ambassador claimed: “Wong and his followers sow violence”.

The furious reaction from Beijing comes after Mr Wong held his own press conference in Berlin on Tuesday in which he compared the situation in Hong Kong to the Cold War division of the German capital.

“If we are in a new Cold War, Hong Kong is the new Berlin,” Mr Wong told reporters. “The Berlin Wall fell 30 years ago. Now we hope the great firewall falls in China.”

But it was Mr Wong’s meeting with Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, that appears to have particularly incensed Beijing.

China had repeatedly urged Angela Merkel's government not to allow the activist entry, and he was briefly detained in Hong Kong airport prior to his departure for Germany.

But shortly after his arrival in Berlin, Mr Wong shared pictures of himself with Mr Maas at an event in the German parliament on Twitter.

China is also angered at calls to name twin baby pandas in Berlin zoo Hong and Kong Credit: ZOO BERLIN HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX

Bild, the German newspaper that sponsored the event, claimed its reporter had been barred from attending the Chinese ambassador’s press conference in retaliation. The Chinese embassy claimed the journalist had not been admitted for reasons of space.

China also appears to have been angered by calls in Germany for twin baby pandas at Berlin zoo to be named Hong and Kong in honour of the protesters.

The Chinese state-run Global Times newspaper reported what it claimed were widespread calls for the pandas to be returned to China after the names topped an online poll.

The unofficial poll was organised by a German newspaper and had nothing to do with Berlin zoo. A spokesman for the zoo pointed out that the pandas will in fact be named by China.

Under China’s “panda diplomacy” policy, the animals are lent to zoos around the world on the understanding they and any young they produce remain Chinese property.

“The young pandas belong to China and will be returned there in two to four years,” the spokesman said. 

The final decision on naming the pandas will rest with the Chinese panda breeding institute in Chengdu.