Nov 27, 2006

East Turkestan: Canada Pushes Beijing on Human Rights

Saying that he would not downplay Canadian values for the sake of the "almighty dollar", the Canadian Prime Minister has chosen to hitch his China policy to human rights.

Below is an article by Rowan Callick published by The Australian:

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 to China.

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.