Canada, China to play nice
Posted by Author on January 29, 2011
Chinese President Hu Jintao’s official state visit to Washington, D.C., last week was intended to demonstrate that China is a positive force in international relations. However, Hu’s subtle public statements revealed that China remains firmly opposed to the cherished Western values of democracy and respect for human rights, putting it on a collision course with the Harper government.
The Chinese leader got an earful from President Barack Obama on human rights during their joint press conference.
But Communist censors back in China blacked out any media coverage of human rights discussions at the Sino-American summit. Even Hu’s statement that “a lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights” was censored in the world’s most populace nation.
Caught off guard by Hu’s declaration, some media analysts speculated about the possibility of human rights reforms in China.
Former Liberal-era cabinet minister and tireless human rights campaigner David Kilgour wasn’t as impressed by Hu’s rhetoric.
“One thing Hu said in D.C. was reality based,” wrote Kilgour in an e-mail. “His (one-) party state has a long way to go on human rights.”
Sadly, under Hu, China “has made no attempt to go anywhere on rights, except backwards,” says Kilgour, who, along with co-author David Matas, was nominated in 2010 for a Nobel Prize for their work documenting the Communist regime’s alleged harvesting of human organs from members of Falun Gong, a large spiritual community in China persecuted by the Communist Party.
“China and the United States should respect each other’s choice of development path,” Hu told Obama, subtly revealing his authoritarian views.
In his forceful 2001 book, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, Michael Ignatieff explains that the Asian development model casts offs Western democratic ideals and embraces a “route to development and prosperity which depends on authoritarian government and authoritarian family structures.”
The then future Liberal leader, who was a Harvard University professor when he wrote the book, points out that some Asian economic success stories, such as Malaysia and Singapore, have blended political authoritarianism with market capitalism.
Far from caving into pressure applied by Obama and members of Congress on the human rights file, Hu’s defence of China’s development model was a diplomatic way of telling the Americans to mind their own business.
Hu’s defiant attitude isn’t surprising in light of U.S. diplomatic cables recently published by WikiLeaks. Emboldened by China’s rising fortunes, European diplomats found Chinese officials unwilling to engage in serious discussions of China’s human rights violations, according to the U.S. cables.
One European official was quoted as saying that the Chinese had “repeatedly reiterated that these are new times and China is no longer going to sit here and be lectured by you.”
Nevertheless, the Harper government remains determined to press Beijing on human rights.
“We continue to be very concerned with the human rights situation in China, including ongoing restrictions on, and violations of civil and political rights, such as freedom of expression, association, religion and belief,” Melissa Lantsman, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, wrote in an e-mail.
When the Conservatives formed the government in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper eschewed the Liberal-era policy of constructive engagement with China, which attempted to use bilateral trade to influence Beijing on human rights. Harper instead adopted a tougher stance on human rights and downgraded the commercial relationship.
Over the last two years, however, Harper has rebooted the policy of constructive engagement. He visited China in 2009, which resulted in Beijing giving Approved Destination Status for Canada, making it easier for Chinese tourists, students and businesspeople to travel here.
Notwithstanding the prime minister’s attempts to restore Canada-China relations, Ottawa hasn’t been shy about taking issue with China’s human rights abuses. For example, Cannon met with China’s ambassador in Ottawa late last year to express Canada’s concerns.
In a move that almost certainly annoyed the Communist regime, Canada’s ambassador to Norway attended the 2010 award ceremony for Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese dissident.
“Canada stands shoulder to shoulder with human rights defenders such as Liu Xiaoba and countless others who struggle to promote freedom and human rights around the world,” Lantsman writes.
But unlike China’s nasty response to the Europeans, Chinese officials are unlikely to tell the Harper government to get lost.
China is desperate to secure access to Canadian oil through investments in Alberta oil sands projects, so Beijing cannot afford to offend Ottawa. And that means that Hu must listen to Harper’s lectures on human rights.
Geoffrey P. Johnston is a local freelance journalist.
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