Jun 05, 2007

China: Canadian Activists Mobilised

Canadian human rights activists mobilised yesterday (4 June 2007) on the 18th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, calling for sanctions and international pressure on China.

Canadian human rights activists mobilised yesterday on the 18th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, calling for sanctions and international pressure on China.

Below are extracts from an article written by Madalina Hubert and published by the Epoch Times:

Eighteen years after the massacre of students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the time for human rights in China has come. And standing up for the rights of China's people does not harm our trade with that country.

This is the message conveyed not just by rights activists, but also by members of parliament from Canada's three national political parties who gathered Saturday at the University of Toronto for the Rights Now! Forum.

Organized by the China Rights Network—a coalition of groups concerned about human rights there—the forum's focus was on Canada-China bilateral relations, particularly on Canada's role in helping China improve human rights.

"A lot of the media like to use the excuse that if we talk about human rights, it would hurt trade, my point is that this is not the case," said NDP MP Olivia Chow.

It's very important to talk about China because it is a huge country, a member of the Security Council and very active in the UN, she added.

Conservative MP Scott Reid praised Prime Minister Stephen Harper's stance on supporting human rights in China. "Vis-à-vis China, we're in a very, very strong position to do this." Despite some objections in the media and in parliament, we need not fear that this will harm our trade relations, he added.

While China is a major trading partner of Canada, last year's exports were 7.7 billion dollars, while the imports were 34.5 billion, indicating that Canada is running a large trade deficit with China, said Reid.

"As we know from international trade, all the power is on the side of the country that is running the trade deficit," Reid said.

In 2006, when Prime Minister Harper first spoke out on Chinese human rights, Canada's trade with China grew substantially, increasing by 16.8 % in imports and 7.84% in exports, said Reid.

Based on these facts, Reid rejected the idea that speaking out on human rights harms trade. "It suggests to me that this is a red herring."

"The economic relationships we have are more important to China than to Canada. It's as simple as that," agreed Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj, adding that when it comes to trade between the two countries, China is the great beneficiary.

Distinguishing the Party From the People

"Like everybody seated in this room today [4 June 2007], I have the highest admiration for the people of China," said former MP and former Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, David Kilgour. Yet despite its rich history, modern China continues to suffer from gross and systematic human rights abuses, he added.

He stressed the importance of distinguishing between China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

"China is its people, not its government," said David Kilgour. "The China basher today is someone who defends the regime in Beijing," he added.

The Rights Now! Forum addressed many of the human rights abuses in China, including the human rights violations of Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Falun Gong practitioners. In addition, speakers tackled the legal system, labour laws and freedom of speech.

The prominent case of Huseyin Celil, the Uyghur-Canadian imprisoned in China was also an issue of discussion at the forum, with the MPs calling on the government to act for his release.


Speaking out Can Make a Difference

While representing traditionally rival Canadian parties, the three MPs agreed on the importance of taking a stance on human rights abuses in China.

"All of us have the same concerns, notwithstanding which party we belong to—what we perhaps differ on is the approach and perhaps the energy that we put in towards some of these issues," said Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj

"We need to stay engaged, we need to speak out", said NDP MP Olivia Chow, calling for a respectful way for Canada to stay engaged with China.

"China is not always a monolithic power that is unresponsive to pressure," argued Conservative MP Scott Reid. He gave the example of the 2002 release of a number of Falun Gong practitioners imprisoned in China following a unanimous decision to support this by the House of Commons and the Canadian government.

"That small action shows that when we are united, we can in fact have an impact, sometimes small, sometimes large on the human rights situation in China," said Reid.

China is in a hyper-transitional period, said Borys Wrzesnewskyj. "When countries undergo substantial changes in a short period of time, it provides for opportunities. And we have an opportunity at this present time to have an impact and an influence on how China develops – on what historical path China travels in the future," he added.

Boycotting the Olympics?

The upcoming 2008 Olympic Games in China were also an issue at the forum on Saturday [2 June 2007].

When addressing the possibility of an Olympic boycott, David Kilgour asked all to be understanding of the hard work of Olympic athletes but emphasized the fact that there is agreement among different organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that human rights have deteriorated in China since it was awarded the Games.

"If the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will not push harder the host government than it has to improve human rights in China, the IOC will be partly responsible for the calls for boycott," warned Kilgour.

"We did not know about Hitler's Holocaust before the Berlin Olympics in 1936, but the international committee does know what the government of China is doing now both internally and internationally," he added.

"We should be under no illusions. We should know that Beijing will be stunning, beautiful, but behind the curtains, if we took a close look, we'd see horrific abuses—human rights and human lives," said MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj.

"Human dignity is ultimately indivisible today just as it was in the 1930s," concluded David Kilgour.

The Rights Now! Forum was followed by a vigil in front of the Chinese Consulate to commemorate the eighteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.