Saturday, April 14, 2007

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,


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