Chinese Department Downgraded, Canada China Human Rights Dialogue Takes an Unexpected Turn (rough translation by me)
Report by Singtao Daily correspondent Mary Yang; September 7, 2007
A Federal Government internal communication indicates that the Chinese Government agreed to postpone the Canada-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue, so as to allow for mutually agreed reformatting of the activity. But Beijing shortly thereafter at the beginning of this year transferred the responsibility for the Dialogue from the Human Rights Division of the Chinese Foreign Ministry to the geographic branch (the Americas and Oceania Directorate). This has caused concern.
Internal documents that Singtao Daily was able to obtain through the "Access to Information Act" indicate that Ottawa finds it difficult to measure the effectiveness and progress made by the annual Canada-China annual human rights dialogue. The Canadian authorities have already begun initial discussions on the 10th round of Dialogue. The Chinese Foreign Ministry initially adopted an open attitude to reforming the dialogue and agreed to postponing it to allow for sufficient time to come up with a mutually agreed reformatting of the activity.
The Human Rights Dialogue between Canada and China was initiated in 1997 by the previous Liberal government. There have been 9 rounds to far, the most recent one held in 2005. A report assessing the Dialogue, that the authorities commissioned the scholar Charles Burton to write, stresses that if the Dialogue is to become a more effective instrument to promote human rights in China, it is necessary to reconsider its structure and content.
An internal document obtained by the Singtao Daily written to as a brief last December in preparation for a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, indicates that the Canadian side intended to solicit the views of of Mr. Yang on reforming the Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue.
An e-mailed internal communication from an Ottawa official, issued prior to a January meeting between Canadian officials in Beijing and officials of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressed the hope that both the Canadian and Chinese sides would recognize that the Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue needs to be improved. The Canadian side would draft up some proposals and a work plan and hoped that they could work collaboratively with the Chinese Foreign Ministry in fulfilling this plan for improvement. They then could discuss the timing of the next round of the Dialogue.
But after this meeting an e-mailed report from a Canadian official reveals that the Chinese Foreign Ministry made a formal diplomatic communication to the Canadian side indicating that the department responsible for the Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue would no longer be the Human Rights Division, but that it would be transferred to the geographic branch (the Americans and Oceania Directorate). This decision to take effect immediately and to be irrevocable. The Canadian official stressed the importance of the Dialogue to Canada and expressed concern that the geographic branch lacks capacity and expertise in human rights.
Charles Burton indicated that this sort of adjustment is unprecedented, "a clear downgrading" as the Americas and Oceanian Directorate is responsible for Canada, the United States and Oceanian affairs and has no functional responsibility for human rights. He pointed out that this shift indicates that China is reversing itself on human rights and weakening the Human Rights Dialogue. This will make is more difficult for Canada to engage in dialogue with China in future.
The Canadian official also expressed the wish that the Human Rights Division would continue with the Dialogue and share their experience and knowledge with the Americas and Oceanian Directorate.
The Chinese official indicated that if the Americas and Oceanian Directorate requested it, the Human Rights Division could provide them with advice.
The Singtao Daily telephoned the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa but up to press time did not receive any response.
Charles Burton believes that if China is not willing to make the Human Rights Dialogue a meaningful activity, then Canada can adopt other means to promote human rights in China, through the United Nations, or by establishing a new institution to promote democracy, or in other ways.
Chinese original of this report can be found at: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dcfd6fxz_261gvkp74. Please advise me of any errors in translation (firstname.lastname@example.org)