Monday, April 30, 2007

Fragment of my Comments about HR Dialogue on IM with a Friend in Beijing

My judgement is that the Government of Canada would not be prepared to resume the dialogue unless the Chinese Government agreed to substantial changes to the format. This would be quite a big step as it would also lead to demands for the same changes by the other nations in the Berne group. Whether the Chinese side would actually be prepared to undertake a "productive results-based discussion" is hard to say. Their idea of dialogue is that it should promote mutual understanding, but not that it lead to the Chinese Government changing its policies in response to what foreigners tell them in dialogues.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Letter to the Globe and Mail RE: "Horror stories spring from one-child policy" April 28, A9

The side-panel suggests that the on-child policy was "instituted almost 30 years ago under Mao Zedong." The "almost 30 years ago" is accurate. But not about the "under Mao." The Chairman died in 1976, more than 30 years ago. Throughout his career Mao promoted high population growth in China and persecuted intellectuals such as Ma Yingchu who warned against it. The birth control policy could only be implemented after Mao was no longer in charge. Based on my knowledge of the late-Chairman's character, I frankly doubt that Mao recanted after his death, but perhaps there are otherworldly sources of information to the contrary.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Reflections at Middle Age on the Path Not Taken

This morning I received a 'phone call from a friend and colleague from my second posting at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing. At my stage in life, re-connecting with an old friend with so many shared memories from a different time and place is a special joy. It was really a boost to my spirits to start my day with a happy chat and to feel his enthusiasm over his important new job at the U.N. and to catch up with news of his family. I am getting used to hearing from colleagues that their children, frozen in my recollection as elementary school students, are getting married, working for NGOs in far off lands, completing Ph.D.s, etc., etc. So I was not surprised when he told me that his young son had just been accepted by the Université de Montréal to study physics. I expressed admiration that his son had chosen physics, a noble pursuit, and so he wouldn't have to be following us into jobs related to political science.

Sometimes I despair that my political science is not really "science" at all. But that I make my living simply spinning tedious stories signifying nothing of sustaining value for 200 minutes a week in term -- as a kind of intellectual fraud. So I been encouraging my daughter to think of a future career in scientific research, not humanities and social sciences. My attitude is a variation on Willie Nelson's "Mama don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys," substituting social scientist for buckaroo. After all she does very well in science and maths in her Grade 7 class. There is a lot of potential there, I think. Actually quite a number of my close friends are mathematicians specializing in sub-fields like combinatorics and optimization. I am not sure exactly what they do but it seems pretty important and of enduring value to society. My math professor friends to a man intensely love music as well. There is evidently a connection between ability at high level math and appreciation of fine music. I like music a lot too. Maybe I should have studied math at university.

Actually, when I was in my first year at Carleton University in 1972, I did take a couple of courses in the then new discipline of Computer Science. I loved that stuff. The programs were stamped into IBM 80-column punch cards and then hundreds of these things fed into a card reader. Often the programs failed not because of a programming error on my part but because one of the cards had not fully descended into the card punch when I was typing it in, so it wouldn't read properly. Then I had to figure out which of my hundreds of cards was to blame and replace it. Anyway I did very well in the computer science courses. In one of them bonus points were given so I ended up with marks higher than 100%. So, as I was showing some talent for this kind of thing, I was approached about majoring in computer science. Being young and foolish I rejected the idea out of hand which, as I recall now, got the computer science professor's back up a bit. My reasoning was that after all, computers might be of value in doing statistical regressions for social science research, but in the final analysis these computers were just glorified calculating machines. I was therefore certain that there was no future in computers. So I decided to major in ancient Chinese philosophy instead. Later I regretted this hasty decision, especially in the 80s when the micro-computers came out. I just had to have one of those cool machines with the 64 kb of ram, 360 kb of storage on 5.25" floppies, 2.5 mhz of raw computing power and especially the 300 baud modem (I was an early adopter of e-mail having an account at Princeton as early as 1984). And after all I am the same age as Bill Gates.

But when the high-tech stocks collapsed in the late-90s, a number of my computer science and electrical engineering grad friends found themselves suddenly out of work and in difficult circumstances in their early-40s. I realized that that could have been me.

By the grace of God maybe things have worked out for the best for me in the end.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Correspondence with Daniel Bell about the Lysøen Declaration

Dear Daniel,

Thanks for that tip about the Norwegian Dialogue. I will look into it. Canada, Norway and China still jointly host something called the "Plurilateral Symposium on Human Rights" which is an annual regional meeting. I found working with the Norwegians really good. We had a Lysøen Declaration in 1998 when Lloyd Axworthy went to Norway to visit his friend, their Foreign Minister Knut Vollebæk, which committed Canada and Norway to "a framework for consultation and concerted action in the areas of enhancing human security, promoting human rights, strengthening humanitarian law, preventing conflict, and fostering democracy and good governance." ( I am not sure what the status of that is under the Harper Government.

Take care,


Informal E-mail Correspondence with Daniel Bell further to my Response to his Globe piece (previous posting below)

Dear Daniel,

Actually I didn't mention the Celil case in my response. I am not sure why you feel that it has been tied up with our human rights engagement. As I understand it Canada has asked that the Chinese Government simply to respect the the 1961 Vienna Convention which means they have to tell us the charge and where he is being held, allow us access to him in prison, and allow us to attend the judicial proceeding. The Chinese side has refused by denying that Celil's Canadian passport makes him Canadian although my reading of the China Nationality Law of 1980 is that one he acquired another citizenship then he is no longer Chinese --- they explicitly deny dual nationality (unlike us). They just say "He is not Canadian." But they won't say why or if other people we regard as Canadian may be seen be them as Chinese and if so, who --- (all Canadians whose families came to Canada from China as refugees which arguably could include Adrienne Clarkson for example?).

Actually since my first posting as a Canadian diplomat in Beijing in 1991, I have been trying to gradually encourage addressing those sensitive issues. There is a lot of activity at the superficial level, for example, the Central Party School has just signed an agreement for collaboration with Rights and Democracy in Montreal -- J.F. Lesage just returned to Canada with it yesterday) and the Beijing Party School (where you can visit Matteo Ricci's grave in the back--- definitely worth it for that anyway) also does a lot of exchanges --- I have spoken there twice. I oversaw the "CASS-Royal Society of Canada Democracy Project" which had 18 exchanges and conferences between '93 and '98. When I returned to the Embassy in '98 I became responsible for the Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue. Lots of good will and trust have been built up, but things have not been going as we had hoped 10 years ago. For example we were pretty excited about the village elections in the early-'90s but there is little progress there over 15 years later. I oversaw the Civil Society Program for CIDA starting in '98 but the growth of the NGO sector has also proved mostly disappointing ten years on. I wrote a report for DFAIT about it all that has been the subject of Parliamentary Committee Hearings since October (see For my report there are details on but I am not sure if you can get that as a Chinese friend told me last week that has been blocked again. Here are some relevant URLs:
My general feeling is that if we wait for the Chinese Communist authorities to agree to meaningful human rights engagement it could be quite a long wait. It has been 30 years since I first lived in China in those bad old days before "opening and reform" started. Now I am over half a century old. I may not have have another 30 years to wait.

"Absurd" is a strong word. We political science professors hold that politics is about choices. China now has a lot more of them now that the per capita GDP is so much higher than it was when I lived in China in the '70s. My feeling is that the growing gap between rich and poor in China is a function of politics. Without democratic institutions the poor have no say in how national resources are allocated. I despair in hearing the Chinese PM say roughly the same thing and make roughly the same unfulfilled promises NPC after NPC. Of course when I lived in China as a student it was all pretty fair due to the planned economy --- we were all poor. But when I was sent to labour in the countryside and my visits to the rural homes of some of my room-mates to Fudan in the school holidays made me appreciate how really bad things can get due to poverty. So this issue is close to my heart. Seems that when the Party abandoned Marxist ideology they also abandoned their commitment to social justice.
Canada only does tiny poverty alleviation via the Embassy-administered Canada fund. And we still do quite a bit in environmental sustainability via CIDA programming. But due to the scope of the problem even if we threw the entire Canadian GDP at it, it would probably just be a drop in a deep bucket. In my view the issues are really only resolvable through systemic change.

Anyway good to talk with you.

Take care,


Friday, April 13, 2007

Response to Daniel Bell's Comment Piece "Lecturing the Chinese won't promote human rights"

On April 13, The Globe and Mail published a comment piece by Daniel Bell, a Canadian teaching at Qinghua University in Beijing, entitled "Lecturing the Chinese won't promote human rights." This article is flawed in its arguments and unfairly characterizes Canadian Government policy to promote good governance, democratic development, rule of law and respect for the universal norms of human rights.
Canadians continue to be disturbed by reports of human rights violations by the Chinese authorities against ethnic minorities, including the Tibetans and the Uyghurs, and against faith communities, particularly Roman Catholics and some other Christian groups, as well as Falungong practitioners. These are all trans-national communities with large numbers of members in Canada so it is incumbent on our Government to respond to their collective concerns. But it doesn't stop there: Canadian labour identifies with the poor working conditions of their Chinese counterparts, AIDS activists in Canada feel a moral obligation to speak out for their Chinese colleagues who are denied a public voice, and in general Canadian citizens empathize with people outside of Canada who are denied the fundamental entitlements of citizenship -- the right to speak one's mind out, to freely associate with one other, and to be protected by just laws from arbitrary mistreatment by authority.
Mr. Bell suggests that expressing concern for human rights violations in China is "not necessarily the role of foreign governments." He is wrong about that. It is necessary because the mandate of the our Government's foreign policy is to defend Canadian interests abroad and clearly most Canadians have strong interest in our Government taking a strong stance against injustice and oppression beyond our borders. Of course we want to engender prosperity in Canada through foreign trade but our relations with China are not just about trade.
No one is proposing that Canada simply lecture the Chinese authorities about human rights. The Canadian approach is to raise our concerns honestly and engage the Chinese authorities on them. But the engagement has to be effective and not on Chinese terms alone. The answer is not, as Mr. Bell proposes, that we cease to focus "in such sensitive areas" and devote ourselves to poverty alleviation and environmental concerns instead. We would undoubtedly "secure the cooperation of Chinese government officials" if we did so. Without question they would like Canada to provide them with resources to transfer to their poor and to help undo the negative environmental consequences of their rapid industrialization. But these are areas that the Chinese régime clearly now has the economic resources to effectively address themselves. The central problem is that there is lack of political will in China to transfer wealth from the burgeoning coffers of the Communist Party dominated business élite to the still-impoverished ordinary Chinese people they claim to represent. One is hard pressed to find a single Communist Party official whose lifestyle seems in any way compatible with his legitimate income. This while most Chinese people continue to live under conditions of unacceptable poverty with inadequate access to medical and educational services. The fundamental issue in China today remains lack of good governance, democratic development, rule of law and respect for the universal norms of human rights. Canada needs to do a better job in formulating policy to bring these to reality in China.
As a graduate of the History of Ancient Chinese Thought program in the Philosophy Department at Fudan University I have the greatest respect for China's wonderful cultural tradition and years later continue to enrich myself through reading classical Chinese texts and the contemporary commentaries on them. Canada's policy of promoting human rights in China is not because we have any aspirations to be "hegemons or self-righteous moralizers" as Mr. Bell implies. But history will not judge us well if we fall into the trap of moral appeasement that he urges. The Chinese people deserve better from their Canadian friends.

Link to Bell's article

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Trade and Dialogue with China

There are reports in the press today about the US complaint to the WTO over rampant piracy of US movies in China. For years video shops in every city in China, located on just about every corner, have stocked thousands of pirated DVDs for sale at the equivalent of $1 each. It has been an on-going issue in US-China relations for well-nigh 20 years. The US estimates the trade loss to them of this one thing at about $2 billion a year now. The Chinese Government response to this is interesting. Tian Lipu, head of their "Intellectual Property Office" said: "It's not a sensible move for the U.S. government to file such a complaint. To do a better job in combating piracy, we need dialogue and cooperation, not confrontation and condemnation." So it seems that "dialogue" as a device to placate the foreigners' concerns is not just a technique applied to our human rights concerns, but as a general principle. The evidence indicates that fruitless "dialogue" can put us off the CCP's case for years. Of course whenever there is a DVD in distribution that shows video of a political nature, such as foreign documentaries about June '89 (these are needless to say of very high interest in China), those are off the market and the shop keepers who dare sell them in the hands of the Chinese police faster than you can utter the words "confrontation and condemnation". There is not much dialogue and cooperation going on between the concerned parties in that case.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Brief Comment on the Lai Changxing Continuing Saga

I have the highest respect for what appears to my untrained mind to be impeccable legal reasoning in The Honourable Mr. Justice de Montigny's decision with regard to Lai Changxing and Zeng Mingna and his related decision with regard to Lai Chunwai, Lai Mingming and Lai Chunchun both dated April 5, 2007. I have posted links to both on my web page. Actually I have enormous admiration for the arguments of the lawyers on both sides and for the judges and others who have written decisions about various twists and turns in the Lai Changxing matter.

Nevertheless I am very troubled that Chinese citizens who have likely committed very serious crimes can settle in Canada without being made accountable for what they did in China. Many of these people are very likely now committing crimes to support themselves as Convention refugees in Canada. But I see no way to settle this matter satisfactorily. I feel quite frustrated about the whole thing. I have spent some much time over these past years fruitlessly mulling over the Lai Changxing conundrum.

p.s. On April 10, the Globe and Mail published an editorial on this matter entitled "What Canada's courts could share with China" (p. A20).

Sunday, April 01, 2007

On Attending Bob Edmond's Memorial Service at Victoria College Chapel

I only got to know Bob Edmonds after he had retired from the Department of External Affairs. Some years ago, he had invited me to speak to the Canadian Institute for International Affairs, National Capital Branch. The Ottawa CIIA holds its dinner meetings in the Studio Hall at the National Arts Centre. It was quite a thrill for me to speak there in such a venue and to have my talk attended by many friends who work in the Government in Ottawa. I was seated at the same table as Mitchell Sharp, who had been Minister for External Affairs when Canada established diplomatic relations with China. After I spoke, Mr. Sharp entertained us all by playing the piano. At the same table was Arthur Menzies who was Ambassador in Beijing when I was a student in China and who I subsequently got to know quite well when I administered the Canadian Asian Studies Association in the late-1980s. I have enormous affection and respect for Mr. Menzies. There was also John Small there who was predecessor to Arthur at the Embassy. A really charming man, sadly he died last year. And there was Bob Edmonds. Bob had been at the Canadian Embassy in Stockholm in the late-1960s. Like Mr. Menzies and Mr. Small his parents had been missionaries in China before 1949. He grew up in Sichuan and Chinese was his native tongue. So when Prime Minister Trudeau decided that Canada should establish diplomatic relations with China, Bob was made the contact with the Chinese Government and communicated through their representatives to Sweden. Bob always regarded these negotiations as the highlight of his diplomatic career. He had a sort of historical iconic character to me. But he always treated me with such courtesy and respect, insisting I drop the "Mr. Edmonds" for "Bob." I felt so honoured by his humility.

A few years ago Bob moved to Toronto. We kept in touch, mostly by e-mail over China-related matters. After Chinese New Year I received a nice e-mail from him. So I was rather taken aback to read in the Globe and Mail a couple of days later, before I had answered his e-mail message, that he had died aged 78. At his memorial service on March 31 at noon in the Victoria College Chapel the circumstances of his death were explained in the eulogy by his son. Turns out he had been attending a lecture at the University of Toronto on March 4. During the lecture he closed his eyes and quietly passed away in the lecture hall.

Bob Edmonds died too young.

But I do hope I can arrange the same death when its my time to go.