Sunday, May 22, 2011

Comment on News Report about Disappeared Associates of Ai Weiwei

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson has said that Ai Weiwei's detention has "nothing to do with human rights". In that case I do wonder: what or who is the source of this doubtful claim of "nothing to do with human rights" that the Chinese MFA has been directed to pass along to the world?

Related to this is Andrew Potter's article "Who is afraid of the Chinese government?" that was published on Friday, May 20, 2011:

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Appearance on TV Panel on Implications of Population Aging in China

I participated in a panel on “Revisiting China’s One-Child Policy” broadcast on the Business News Network program “Headline” on May 19, 2011.  Part One can be viewed here:  Part Two can be viewed here:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Internal Factors in the Decline of the Popularity of the Liberal Party of Canada

The dramatic decline in popular support of the Liberal Party of Canada in the recent election was not anticipated by most observers.  But in the end only 18.9% of voters supported the Liberals.  Taking into account that some of those 18.9% voted to support an incumbent that had served them well in the past, it seems likely that the core support for the Liberals may have dropped as low as 15% on May 2.  

I am not convinced by the explanations that I have been reading in the commentary sections of the popular press that attribute the reduction of the Liberal Party to just 34 seats in the House of Commons to external factors.  These include: First of all, the effectiveness of the Conservative Party attack ads against Michael Ignatieff which questioned Ignatieff's commitment to Canada.  Secondly the "unexpected" rise of support for the NDP attributed to the collapse of the Bloc Quebecois that reduced numbers for the Liberals.  And finally, the painstaking work of Jason Kenney in gaining Conservative support by "the ethnic vote" which tipped the balance away from the Liberals in ridings in the Greater Toronto Area.   

The other explanation, mostly coming from embittered Liberals, has been to blame the ineffectiveness of the Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff.  But the assertion in an Op-Ed in the Toronto Star published May 5 that the "Liberal defeat had one cause: Michael Ignatieff" suggesting that things would have gone much better had Bob Rae been in charge does not convince me either.  Many claim that did not listen to the advice of seasoned Liberal insiders on political strategy before and during the election.  While this accusation may be well-based, I don’t find this an adequate explanation.

In my line of work as a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Brock University, I watch a lot of CPAC including broadcasts of Question Period in the House of Commmons.  So I put in a lot of hours observing Michael Ignatieff's public statements in Parliament and at other events more of less daily since he became Leader of the Official Opposition in December 2008 ‘til he resigned earlier this month.  On the face of it, Ignatieff was the kind of leader that I should have regarded as ideally suited to the position.  He is very well-connected in London and Washington, a professor human rights at Harvard and author of a series of well-regarded books many on international affairs.  One would have expected that he would have been a charismatic, articulate and insightful person of substance.   But I agree with the characterization of Ignatieff by Tim Armstrong in that Op-Ed in the Toronto Star published May 5 that "his constant stridency in question period (when he was there) and in parliamentary debates was ineffective. On his bus forays across the country, he came across as professorial, condescending and insincere in asserting that he welcomed the opportunity to listen to — as opposed to lecture — Canadians."   I took exception to his approach to his mode of responding to hostile questions from the press in the course of the election campaign.  The image on the TV was of Ignatieff flanked by an assortment of Liberal candidates.  At any challenging question he would smirk and produce an insincere tittering laugh chorused by the assembled entourage.  It suggested am arrogant pettiness that rubbed me and I imagine other voters very wrong.

In general the Liberals didn't take being Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition seriously.  They offered little in the way of innovative political alternatives.  One felt that the Party leadership regarded program details as unimportant.  That could be sorted out later.  Main thing was that Canada should be governed by the Liberal Party elite.  Government was their entitlement.

The decline of the Liberal Party of Canada does seem to follow the same sort of pattern that led to the decline of other once-great and solid Canadian institutions.  For example only a few years ago Canada was the country of Eaton's, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada "Red Tories," and Bell Canada.  These were all supremely confident organizations with a strong sense of their own traditions and history, blithely unaware that they were becoming increasingly irrelevant in the face of changing modern conditions.  

When it finallly became apparent that they were heading into difficulty they were too arrogantly set in their ways to effectively respond and up to the end were in denial that their institution once so vibrant "modern" and at the forefront of national life was about to crash, never to rise again.

The same process appears to be being repeated by the once dominant Liberal Party of Canada.

Anyway all things in life have a beginning, a middle and an end.  It is time for Canadian politics to look forward, not back.

My Take on Mr. Baird's Appointment and the Reinvigoration of Canadian Foreign Policy

The appointment of John Baird to Minister of Foreign Affairs suggests that under a stable majority, the Government of Canada will be able to put renewed emphasis on promoting Canada's prosperity through trade and on realizing Canada's security interests in international relations.

Mr. Baird in his previous ministries has demonstrated a strong commitment to implementation of the Prime Minister's agenda.  He is a strong leader who is not afraid to take strong action when necessary to ensure that the Government's purposes are fully realized in the programming of the departments under his administration.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has been a problematic ministry for the Harper Government due to long association of its senior civil servants with Liberal Party elitism through Liberal Party associated think tanks and other agencies.  This has been particularly true in the case of the North Asian Relations Division.

But the function of the professional civil servants in Foreign Affairs is to implement the foreign policy agenda of the elected government, not attempt to subvert this agenda.  This would include the new Office of Religious Freedom for which the Prime Minister clearly intends a central role in Canada's foreign affairs, immigration, and developmental aid programming.

Under Mr. Baird one can expect to see a rigorous approach to ensuring that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will genuinely represent the interests of Canada abroad as these interests are understood and articulated by the Government of Canada elected by Canadians on May 2.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Academic Exchanges and Foreign Embassy-Sponsored Activities in China Being Curtailed

"At least 60 activities organized by the United States Embassy in Beijing -- including cultural forums, school programs, ambassadorial visits -- were canceled between February and April because of interference by the Chinese authorities, and some European missions have been similarly pressured. Several university conferences involving foreigners have been canceled, and the Ministry of Education is stepping up warnings to Chinese scholars heading abroad that they not take part in "anti-China" activities or engage with groups that promote democracy."

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