The Chinese government has expressed its anger with Germany’s foreign minister over his meeting with the Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, saying the encounter was “disrespectful” of Beijing’s sovereignty.
Wong tweeted a picture of himself and Heiko Maas following his arrival in Berlin, saying the two had discussed the “protest situation and our cause”.
The 22-year-old, arrested in August for his role in the protests which have challenged Beijing, was feted by German politicians and media commentators at a party in the rooftop restaurant of the Reichstag building on Monday night hosted by the Bild tabloid.
Speaking to the gathering, Wong pledged to continue to “protest until the day that we have free elections” and compared Hong Kong with communist East Germany during the pro-democracy protests that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“If we are now in a new cold war, Hong Kong is the new Berlin,” Wong told the gathering. “We urge the free world to stand together with us in resisting the autocratic Chinese regime.”
He had been briefly detained in Hong Kong by authorities immediately before his departure to Germany, apparently following a mistake related to his bail conditions.
The former student leader of pro-democracy protests in 2014 was one of several activists arrested in late August. The case was adjourned until November and he was released on HK$10,000 (£1,045) bail.
Wong told the Berlin gathering he had been arrested eight times and held in detention for 100 days.
In a statement a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry accused Berlin of interfering in the country’s affairs.
“It is extremely wrong for German media and politicians to attempt to tap into the anti-China separatist wave,” Hua Chunying said at a press briefing on Tuesday, adding that the government “strongly disapproved” of the meeting. “It is disrespectful towards China’s sovereignty and an interference in China’s internal affairs.”
Germany’s foreign ministry rejected the criticism. A spokesman said it was normal for the foreign minister to “hold meetings with members of civil society and for the government to stand up for freedom of speech”.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who visited Beijing last week with an entourage of business leaders, said she had discussed the protests during her meetings with officials. She reportedly stressed to China’s premier, Li Keqiang, on Friday that the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong “must be guaranteed”.
Wong, who is due to address students and the public on Wednesday evening at the Humboldt University in Berlin before travelling to the US, said he planned to hold further talks with political leaders in Germany. There was no meeting scheduled with Merkel, according to her spokesman, Steffen Seibert.
Last week, Wong made headlines in Germany after calling for two panda cubs, born last month to pandas at Berlin zoo who have been rented from the Chinese government, to be named “Democracy” and “Freedom”, in order to “send a very clear signal to China”. A national campaign has called for the cubs to be called “Hong” and “Kong”.