Rowan Callick, China correspondent
UNDER the former Liberal government of Paul Martin, Canada was for a long time
out of step with the rest of the Anglosphere on international affairs and the
war on terrorism.
The election of conservative Stephen Harper as Prime Minister in February changed
that – with one large exception: China.
While Australian Prime Minister John Howard finds much in common with Mr Harper
in other matters, the two leaders could scarcely be further apart on China.
Mr Harper has chosen to hitch his China policy to human rights – which Mr Howard
tends to leave to the discreet annual dialogues on the contentious issue, and
other quiet diplomatic representations.
For weeks before Mr Harper’s first attendance at the Asia Pacific Economic
Co-operation summit in Hanoi 10 days ago, controversy had been building in Canada’s
media about whether the Prime Minister would be granted a meeting by Chinese
President Hu Jintao.
In the end, the two met briefly at the reception for the summit dinner. Mr
Harper described their conversation as “very frank”.
“Much of the time, China doesn’t consider certain questions of human rights,”
he said. “Obviously, I was clear that Canada always intends to discuss
all the necessary questions.”
The Prime Minister said he would not downplay Canadian values for the sake
of the “almighty dollar”.
And “neglecting human rights hasn’t opened a lot of doors”, considering
the size of Canada’s trade deficit with China.
Mr Harper said he had gained “a distinct impression, if I can say, that
the Chinese are not used to that from a Canadian government” – implying
that his predecessors were supine on such matters.
Liberal leader Bill Graham told parliament: “The Prime Minister tried
to pretend a brief meeting with the President of China on the way to a dinner
was a historic event.
“But the Chinese news agency put it at the bottom of a story about President
Hu meeting with the leader of Papua New Guinea.”
Although Li Hongzhi, the leader of the banned religious movement Falun Gong,
lives in New York, Canada has become a leading venue for Falun Gong activity.
And it was in Canada that two prominent human rights activists, former parliamentarian
David Kilgour and lawyer David Matas, published a widely circulated report claiming
that large numbers of body organs had been seized “from unwilling Falun
Gong practitioners for sale at high prices, sometimes to foreigners who normally
face long waits for voluntary donations of such organs in their home countries”.
However, Harry Wu, one of the most respected Chinese dissident leaders, has
cast doubt on the claims made in the report, for which the writers did not travel
And Thomas d’Aquino – the president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives,
representing 150 top CEOs who would usually back the conservative Government
– expressed the anxiety of the country’s business community about the rapidly
growing rift with China.
He told The Globe and Mail newspaper: “I am deeply concerned about the
Harper Government’s approach to China, and my concerns are shared by many in
Canada’s business and academic communities.
“If we continue down this road, we will seriously damage one of the most
important relationships we have,” Mr d’Aquino said. “We will render
useless our voice and influence in effecting change in China.”
An MP in Mr Harper’s party gained strong – but insufficient – support for a
parliamentary move to upgrade relations with Taiwan, further alienating Beijing.
One of the human rights cases that the Harper Government has taken up most
forcefully has been that of Huseyin Celil, a Uighur – a member of the Muslim
Turkic-language group in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang – who became
a Canadian citizen, was arrested in Uzbekistan and handed over to China, where
he has been detained for alleged terrorism.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told Canadian reporters Mr Celil was still
considered a Chinese national, despite having been granted Canadian citizenship.
Traditionally, Canada has enjoyed a close relationship with China. One of the
Westerners most celebrated for his involvement with the early Communist Party,
including during the Long March, was a Canadian doctor, Norman Bethune.
Posting date: 28/Nov/2006
Original article date: 27/Nov/2006
Category: Media Report