Friday, November 17, 2006

Mr. Harper, Mr. Hu, Mr. Celil, Human Rights, Trade and Canada-China Relations

Charles Burton
Associate Professor, Political Science Brock University
Former diplomat at Canadian Embassy in Beijing
Author of “Assessment of the Canada-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue” report released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and current subject of review by the Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights and Development
FAX: (209)231-4087

The unexpected cancellation of a scheduled meeting between our Prime Minister and the President of China while both were in Vietnam for the APEC Meeting has stimulated much public debate over Canada’s foreign policy toward China. The belief among many is that Mr Harper’s office had advised Mr. Hu’s office that Canada wanted the leaders to address matters related to human rights and that the Chinese refused to have human rights put on the agenda. Sso Canada was “snubbed” by China. But it appears that it was not human rights that the Chinese President did not want raised by Canada, but rather a consular case of a Canadian citizen, Huseyincan Celil, who is currently languishing in a Chinese jail. Despite many requests, the Chinese Government refuses to abide by the Vienna Convention and let Canadian diplomats meet with Mr. Celil at the prison so that they can know that he remains in good health. Canada also has a right under international law to attend any court hearing held for Mr. Celil to ensure that Mr. Celil is extended due process of law and a fair trial. So far China has refused to respond to Canadian requests for this consular access to Mr. Celil. It is therefore reasonable as some months have passed without any resolution, that we try and get some answers out of China at the most senior level. Mr. Celil’s fate is probably in the hands of China’s Security Ministry. Mr. Hu is not a democratically elected president but relies on the support of the military and security apparatus to remain in power. So President Hu may be in the embarrassing position of being unable to do the right thing by Canada in this matter. So perhaps his people decided on balance it is best Mr. Hu not meet with Mr. Harper at all. .This is regrettable in the sense that meeting is always preferable to not meeting, but in the final analysis it probably does not matter much one way or the other. The fundamentals of Canada-China relations do not depend on whether or not our leaders have a bilateral get together at APEC.

Actually there is no evidence that there is any relationship between human rights and trade in our bilateral relationship with China. Whether we choose to address our concerns over China’s human rights record through “quiet diplomacy” or through frank, open and effective engagement is unlikely to have any impact on Canadian and Chinese economic relations. The Chinese are pragmatists. They will always want the best product and the best service at the best price. If Canada offers the best deal, they will buy from Canada regardless. China will not sacrifice its economic interests because it is losing a debate with us or any other nation over whether or not China is compliant with its obligations to the UN Human Rights Covenants that China is signatory to: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. China may accuse Canada of betraying the traditional friendship between our nations. This sort of lament and implied threats if we do not follow China’s prescriptions with regard to Tibet and Taiwan is standard procedure in China’s public diplomacy to deflect foreign criticism of its human rights record. But in the end the Chinese authorities know very well that in international relations there are no true friends, only national interests. Anyway it is better to that we be respected by the Chinese regime for holding to our deeply held principles than praised by them for our implied support of their rule. It is in the interests of Canada to stand up for people in China who are suffering from social injustice and cannot speak out for themselves due to China’s repression of their right to organize and to speak their minds out to an authoritarian Government that prefers not to hear from them. That China should be governed in accordance with the universal norms of human rights is something that all Canadians believe is best for the Chinese people. In fact it is the firm entitlement of all Chinese citizens as members of the human family. Canadians must demand that their Government make this a policy priority. This is not a politically partisan issue. It is what all Canadians know is the right thing to do.

China has changed dramatically in recent years. It is a more mature and confident nation as it rapidly rises to major power status. There are more and more new opportunities for Canada to grasp in trade and investment, political and cultural exchanges, and immigration month by month and year by year. But in recent years other nations have passed us by continuously updating their approach to relations with China while Canada’s engagement with China has stagnated. Canada’s loss of market share in China trade over the past years compared with Europe, the US and Australia is just one indicator that there is urgent need for us to be doing our China policy better. It is time that Canada renovates its China policy in all aspects to meet the challenge of the 21st century. This is very important to Canada’s future as a leading economy and responsible member of the global community.

1 comment:

羽之助 said...

"in international relations there are no true friends, only national interests."

I like that. Very much. I still remember one of your human rights lectures where you stated that quite frankly, nobody really cares about economic sanctions because they have no effect on national policy anyway. Trade with China is going to steamroll on regardless ...

It makes me feel like we have absolutely no leverage to get Mr. Celil out, though.

By the way, have you seen that new commercial that essentially portrays China as unchanging from Cultural Revolution days?