Western Standard (Alberta): No More Mr. Nice Guy

No More Mr. Nice Guy: The federal government’s hard line on human rights in
China incites pro-democracy friends and business foes

BYLINE: Kevin Steel, Western Standard

Call it Ottawa’s unofficial China Day. On Nov. 21, Beijing’s envoy, Lu Shumin,
spoke before a group of 500 business leaders at the Canadian Club, asking Canada
to show respect and not "point fingers" at the state of human rights
in his country. At the same time, a half a kilometre away, a Commons subcommittee
was hearing testimony on ending our government-to-government human rights dialogue
with China–talks ongoing since 1997. And outside, on the Parliament grounds,
a coalition of 13 groups, from democracy advocates to Falun Gong, demonstrated
in support of the Conservative government’s hard line on Chinese Communist human
rights violations.

The Chinese envoy was given a sympathetic hearing in the Canadian media, his
words about China’s commitment to human rights being reprinted nationwide with
few dissenting voices. And business leaders like the Canadian Council of Chief
Executives’ president Thomas d’Aquino stepped up to criticize the Conservatives’
stance on China–a stance summed up by Harper on his way to the APEC summit
in Hanoi, saying "[Canadians] don’t want us to sell that out to the almighty
dollar." D’Aquino and others believe words like these are wrong-headed
and harmful to trade with booming China.

The Parliament Hill demonstrators, however, loved what Harper said. The 200
participants included representatives from the Falun Gong, Tibetans, Vietnamese
and Chinese democracy activists. They were overjoyed to see a western leader
finally standing up to Beijing–and stunned by the Canadian media and business
community swallowing the Beijing line. "I can’t believe they are saying
these things, like they believe them," Falun Gong representative Lucy Zhou
said of some of Canada’s business leaders. "It’s a totalitarian regime,
a Communist evil, and they don’t behave like a normal country."

China’s record on human rights is by most accounts abysmal. For years, the
slow genocide of the Tibetan people by Chinese incursion has been a major source
of international concern. On Sept. 30, an international mountain-climbing expedition
witnessed Chinese border guards casually open fire on a group of Tibetans crossing
the Himalayas on a pilgrimage to the Dalai Lama in India.

Less well known than the Tibetans plight is the repression of the Uyghur Muslims
in eastern Xinjiang province, where for years the Communists conducted above-ground
nuclear tests with little regard for the population.

Harper’s snubbing by Chinese President Hu Jintao at APEC in mid-November was
apparently in retaliation for the prime minister’s stated intention to question
China’s detention of Uyghur-Canadian activist Huseyin Celil of Burlington, seized
on a trip to Uzbekistan and then extradited to a Chinese prison.

Human rights organizations complain continually about Beijing’s jailing of
outspoken journalists and lawyers.

The detentions of lawyer Gao Zhisheng and artist Yan Zhengxue, both held incommunicado,
are some recent examples. In the larger picture, China has the highest number
of executions in the world–not surprising in a country where 68 separate offences
warrant the death penalty. The population is constantly monitored on the Internet,
aided by western high-tech giants like Google, and the crackdowns on popular
protests, whether for the return of seized land or simply religious freedom,
can be brutal.

The most egregious charges against Beijing concern the persecution of the Falun
Gong. Members claim the regime supplies a stream of Falun Gong prisoners to
designated Chinese hospitals, where their organs are removed and sold to wealthy
foreigners. These gruesome charges have been supported by credible testimony
and evidence, and former MP David Kilgour and lawyer David Matas have drafted
a report on the situation.

Though envoy Shumin’s speech and the demonstration garnered most of the headlines,
the Commons subcommittee did some serious work. Canada’s approach to China is
under review, including the $50 million in foreign aid sent there yearly–much
of it for "good governance education." However, the subcommittee’s
primary focus is on the Canada-China Joint Committee on Human Rights (CCJCHR).
In the mid-nineties, the Communists were concerned that the United Nations would
vote to sanction them for their human rights record. So Beijing devised a divide-and-conquer
strategy. China proposed to establish a government-to-government human rights
dialogue in each western nation, in exchange for their abstaining at the UN.
Canada, among others, bit on the idea and set up the CCJCHR in 1997; it has
met every year since.

Brock University political science professor Charles Burton, a former Canadian
diplomat in China, was involved in the early implementation of the CCJCHR dialogues.
He has authored an assessment of the program for the Department of Foreign Affairs,
now under review by the subcommittee. Burton discovered a fundamental disjunction
between how Canada and China viewed the dialogue. "The report clearly indicates
that the Chinese government does not see the human rights dialogue process as
being something that will impact on any changes domestically in China. But they
see it more as responding to western government needs to demonstrate to their
citizens and NGOs that they are doing something to stand on the side of social
justice in China," Burton says. In other words, though the dialogues were
established as a favour to China–to avoid a vote against them at the UN–the
Chinese foreign ministry now sees them as essentially a favour for publicity-conscious
western governments.

Ironically for Canada, this era of quiet diplomacy has had little impact on
trade. A few companies may have benefited, but the overall results have been
negligible from a growth perspective. Relative to other countries, Canada’s
market share of China trade declined during this quiet diplomacy, asserts Burton.
He points out further that Denmark didn’t go along to get along, and kept up
a hard line on human rights in China. For years Beijing threatened trade reprisals,
but none materialized. So the trade argument against Harper’s harder line doesn’t
hold, and the change might improve things. "I think that if we speak frankly
and openly with China about our concerns it engenders more respect and should
lead to better relations–that would include improved economic and political
relations," Burton says.

China has shown little respect for Canada, pirating its technology for years–so
grossly evident in their BlackBerry ripoff, renamed the RedBerry–and is alleged
to have a network of more than 1,000 spies working here. Through its envoy,
Beijing has called for Canada to show respect.

Perhaps by nailing them on their human rights abuses, Beijing can be taught
to respect Canada.

Posting date: 30/Dec/2006
Original article date: 22/Dec/2006
Category: Media Report


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