Austria hopes for business boom as Hu visits Salzburg

Demonstrations have reached Salzburg as the Chinese president continued his visit to Austria yesterday (Mon).

Hu Jintao – who arrived in Vienna on Sunday – was shielded from the street marches and silent vigils attended by hundreds of Austrians and foreigners at various locations in the centre of the Austrian capital yesterday. A woman joining a Free Tibet demonstration had to be protected by police officers when a Chinese physically attacked her. The man also tried to grab her Tibetan flag. The incident took place in front of Vienna’s Hotel Imperial. Hu and several members of his 150-member delegation stayed at the five-star resort before travelling to the city of Salzburg yesterday evening.

Human rights activists, Uyghurs and people calling for an end of China’s occupation of Tibet also gathered in front of the Burgtheater Vienna and in the heart of Salzburg. Their posters depicted the Dalai Lama and featured slogans like “Tibet is dying as the world is watching on”. A Viennese activist called on European Union (EU) leaders to send an independent commission to Tibet “to examine what is really happening there”. She deplored the lack of religious freedom in the country and the kidnapping of monks and nuns allegedly carried out by Chinese troops and agents. “We would be put into jail had this demonstration taken place in China,” she said.

Hu was welcomed by Austrian Labour Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) at Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE) on Sunday before meeting Federal President Heinz Fischer for talks at Hofburg Palace in Vienna the next morning. Several intergovernmental contracts and bilateral declarations of intent were signed by the state leaders who underlined the “friendly relationship” Austria and China had.

Fischer – who had to accept criticism for failing to raise the human rights issue in front of the press after the meeting with Hu – said about developments in 2010: “Twenty per cent more tourists from China (in Austria), a plus of 30 per cent of Austrian investments (in China), 40 per cent more exports from Austria to China (than in 2009).”

The volume of bilateral trade between the small European Union (EU) member and the booming Asian country was 8.2 billion Euros in 2010. Austrian Economy Chamber (WKO) President Christoph Leitl said yesterday he was convinced that the chances to surpass the mark of one billion Euros in 2012 were good. Around 600 Austrian enterprises are represented in China, according to WKO figures. The country is Austria’s second-most important overseas import and export partner after the United States.

People’s Party (ÖVP) Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner – who recently appealed to Austrian firms to focus on business activities outside the EU to avoid falling behind in international comparison – said companies based in Austria could succeed in China with their “eco innovation” know-how. Mitterlehner once more appealed on Austrian businesspeople to focus on markets outside Europe more strongly to remain competitive in uncertain and quickly evolving times.

China – which has around 1.3 million inhabitants – is widely seen as the world’s dominating economic force. Hu said after his meeting with Fischer yesterday that his country was observing developments in the EU closely. The Chinese president refused to disclose whether his government would invest in the bailout fund created by the EU’s 17 Eurozone leaders in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB).

China made headlines by purchasing government bonds of economically challenged countries in Europe in the past few months. The country’s leadership also decided to fund various infrastructure projects on the continent. Luxembourgian Prime Minister and Euro Group President Jean-Claude Juncker said a Chinese engagement in the Eurozone aid package would make sense, but also stressed that the country could not expect political return services from the EU for possible investments into the bailout fund which is set to be expanded.

Barbara Prammer, the head of the Austrian parliament, appealed to Hu to “show benevolence and clemency” regarding civil and human rights in his country when he visited the parliament. The SPÖ official described the issues as “great future challenges” China would be facing. Hu – who described the talks and meeting he and his delegation have held after arriving in Austria as “fruitful” – is sightseeing in the city and province of Salzburg today before travelling to Cannes, France, to attend the G20 summit of the world’s 20 most powerful economies.