Protests follow Hu to Salzburg

Several street protests overshadowed the final day of Hu Jintao’s visit to Austria.

Hundreds of people gathered along the roads of the province of Salzburg as the convoy of the Chinese leader and his 150-member delegation passed yesterday morning (Tues) to visit a farm. Hu and the other political and business officials also went on a boat trip and enjoyed the performance of a traditional folk children’s dancing ensemble in the Salzkammergut region. A group of Chinese expats sang songs for the politicians, businessmen and journalists.

Hu was accompanied by Austrian President Heinz Fischer and Social Democratic (SPÖ) Salzburg Governor Gabi Burgstaller as he visited the popular summer and winter holiday destination. Hu received Mozart chocolate balls, schnapps and other gifts by locals before visiting the Salzburg city centre building where composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived for some years.

Provincial tourism officials said today they were optimistic Hu’s visit would give the region a boost. Referring to the Chinese TV and newspaper reporters closely following the president’s visit to Salzburg, they stressed that “millions of people in China are watching.”

A Boeing 747 jet operated by Air China took Hu – who is forced by Chinese term restrictions to retire as federal president in 2013 – to Nice in southern France today. The Chinese leader will attend the G20 meeting of the state and government chiefs of the 20 economically strongest countries in the world in the seaside city of Cannes. French police assigned thousands of anti-riot police officers to tackle expected violent protests by critics of globalisation and the global banking system.

European leaders hope for Hu to announce a continuation of Chinese investments in struggling states like Greece and Portugal. The Asian superpower backed ailing states all over the world by purchasing large amounts of government bonds. At the same time, the country’s leadership appealed to the United States and the European Union (EU) to show serious efforts in restoring their budgets to solve the global bank and debt crisis.

Representatives of Falun Gong, a religious group banned in China, took to the streets in Salzburg to protest against Hu’s visit and his country’s political elite. Members of the Tibetan community in Austria were joined by Free Tibet activists, animal activists, civil rights groups and representatives of various non-government organisations (NGOs) as they gathered in Salzburg’s old town.

Police had to interfere when a brawl between protesters and a group of people supporting Hu clashed in front of the Mozart House yesterday. A spokesman for the police in the city said that no one was injured in the encounter. The row occurred one day after a man attacked a woman waving a Tibetan flag in front of Vienna’s Hotel Imperial. Hu and many members of his delegation stayed at the five-star hotel after arriving at Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE) on Sunday evening.

Hundreds of policemen and interior security agents guarded the Chinese group of politicians and businesspeople throughout their visit to the alpine country which took place after Fischer went on a state visit to China in January of last year.

Hu and Fischer signed intergovernmental contracts and bilateral declarations of intent set to increase business relationships between their countries at Vienna’s Hofburg Palace, where the Austrian president has his office, before members of the Vienna Philharmonic performed for the politicians.

Hu and Fischer praised their countries’ “friendly relationship” before the latter was criticised in local media for failing to emphasise the question of human rights and democracy in China – where the death penalty is in effect – in his address to the press.

Parliament Speaker Barbara Prammer said in her speech she wanted Hu to show benevolence and clemency considering issues like civil rights. Hu did not comment the statement but lauded his delegations’ talks with Austrian entrepreneurs and lawmakers as “fruitful”. Prammer, a former federal SPÖ minister for women, is hotly tipped to run for president when the second and final term of Fischer’s ends in 2016.

Austrian newspapers Kurier and Salzburger Nachrichten put pictures of Hu in Salzburg on their front pages this morning. Referring to Austrian hopes for tighter economic ties with the prospering Asian country, conservative daily Die Presse pointed out that Hu “expressed kind words but left no precise investment promises.” The daily pointed out that Austria’s import value was significantly higher than exports to China. Products shipped from China to Austria between January and August were worth 3.4 billion Euros whereas the value of exports was found to be just 1.7 billion Euros, according to Die Presse.

Austrian SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann said during a visit to the Expo 2010 in Shanghai in May 2010: “(Austria’s) trade with most partners receded in the crisis, while it didn’t with China. The country has played a key role for the Austrian economy and will be even more important in the future.”

The Austrian Economy Chamber (WKO) informed earlier this week that 600 Austrian firms were currently operating in China which is Austria’s second-most important business partner overseas. Only the value of exports to and imports from the USA surpass figures for activities between Austria and China.