Saturday, December 05, 2009

Harper says trade won't stifle human rights talk

Harper says trade won't stifle human rights talk
Last Updated: Friday, December 4, 2009 | 10:38 PM ET
CBC News

Stephen Harper makes a speech to business leaders in Shanghai on Friday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday his government would not let the pursuit of expanded economic ties with China lead to silence on human rights issues.

In his first and only major speech during his four-day visit to China, Harper told a crowd of business leaders gathered in Shanghai that building a stronger trade relationship is not incompatible with an open discussion of human rights.

He also outlined the benefits of increasing trade and Chinese investment in Canada, highlighting Canada's falling tax rates, low government debt and abundant energy resources.

"But just as trade is a two-way street, so too is dialogue," he said.

"Our government believes and has always believed that a mutually beneficial economic relationship is not incompatible with a good and frank dialogue on fundamental values like freedom, human rights and the rule of law," he told the crowd of 500 business leaders.

"And so, in relations between China and Canada, we will continue to raise issues of freedom and human rights, be a vocal advocate and an effective partner for human rights reform, just as we pursue the mutually beneficial economic relationship desired by both our countries."

This section of the speech was greeted with silence from the crowd of businessmen, who had applauded previously statements focusing on trade and the removal of protectionist policies.

Harper's comments came a day after Canada and China issued a joint statement saying China would bestow the label of "preferred tourist destination" on Canada, a move that will make it easier for Chinese tourists to visit Canada.

Thursday's statement only briefly mentioned the issue of human rights, saying the two sides agreed they had "distinct points of view."

Harper chided for waiting too long to visit

It is Harper's first visit to China since forming his first government in 2006, a fact Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made note of several times during public statements on Thursday. A Canadian prime minister had not visited since Paul Martin did so in January 2005.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, visited the Forbidden City in Beijing on Friday before meeting with business leaders in Shanghai. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)"Five years is too long a time for China-Canada relations and that's why there are comments in the media that your visit is one that should have taken place earlier," Wen said Thursday.

Canada-China relations have been frosty since Harper became prime minister in 2006, particularly because of his past comments on China's human rights record and his public support of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who has been living in exile since China annexed the region in 1958.

Chinese President Hu Jintao also had threatened to call off a meeting between the two leaders in Vietnam in 2006 after Harper criticized China over a case involving Huseyin Celil, a Canadian activist jailed in China for alleged terrorist links. Beijing continues to refuse to allow Canadian consular visits to Celil.

The Conservative government has backed off in the last year from publicly chiding China, opting instead for more quiet diplomacy, a recognition of China's growing importance as an economic power.

The government-run China Daily has characterized Harper's visit as a sign that relations between the two countries may "thaw," while another article described Harper's visit as "late" but "still welcome."

Earlier in the day, the prime minister visited the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing and met with Wu Bangguo, chairman of the standing committee of the National People's Congress and one of the government's top figures.

Harper is scheduled to visit Hong Kong on Saturday and then concludes his Asian trip with a visit to South Korea, where he will address the National Assembly on Monday.

With files from The Canadian Press

Scoring in China – without prostituting ourselves

John Ibbitson
Scoring in China – without prostituting ourselves

Despite his public mauling by the Chinese Premier, Stephen Harper's trip is a substantive success

Harper vows to promote human rights
Globe editorial: The tardy guest and the human touch

John Ibbitson
Published on Friday, Dec. 04, 2009 6:57PM EST
Last updated on Friday, Dec. 04, 2009 7:19PM EST
Stephen Harper has an unfailing ability to take a weak speech and make it even flatter through delivery, and his address to Chinese and Canadian business leaders Friday evening was no exception. But that's not the point.

The point is that, despite his mauling by Premier Wen Jiabao over the Conservative government's tardy and reluctant recognition of the importance of the China-Canada relationship, the Prime Minister's trip is substantively a success.

The Chinese granted Canada permission to market group tours of Chinese citizens to Canada – a privilege that other nations have long enjoyed, but that our country has been unsuccessfully seeking for a decade. Final agreement came late and was uncertain until the end, according to sources. Clearly, the Chinese knew that the Canadians needed deliverables, and were prepared to grant this one, though not without a good spanking first.

There were a few other accords as well, none of them earth-moving. In sum they appear to reflect a Chinese government willing to re-engage with Canada despite our years of self-imposed exile.

And the past few days demonstrate emphatically that Mr. Harper fully recognizes the vital importance to Canada's economic and geopolitical future of fully engaging with China, at every level, all the time.

“As economic power and human prosperity spreads from West to East, Canada's trade orientation is shifting also,” Mr. Harper said in his speech. “It is clear that in the 21st century, trans-Pacific trade will increasingly fuel our economic growth.”

So it will. But it is easier and more morally satisfying to trade with like-minded democracies such as the United States and Europe. China is not a democracy. It imprisons people for what they say; its judiciary is not to be trusted; it is corrupt.

The challenge for Canadians is to engage with China while not prostituting ourselves. Mr. Harper thought he could chastise the Chinese on human rights while simultaneously fostering trade. But the Chinese government had no intention of playing that game, which is why the diplomatic equivalent of corporal punishment was the price of readmission to the regime's good graces.

How to balance trade and human rights on the China file has baffled every Canadian government. Most just caved, shoving the issue aside. Mr. Harper believes he can promote both.

“Our government believes, and has always believed, that a mutually beneficial economic relationship is not incompatible with a good and frank dialogue on fundamental values like freedom, human rights and the rule of law,” Mr. Harper said in his speech.

“…We will continue to raise issues of freedom and human rights, be a vocal advocate and an effective partner for human-rights reform, just as we pursue the mutually beneficial economic relationship desired by both our countries.”

Properly handled, this is the approach that all the Western democracies should be taking. The equilibrium of this century depends on helping China manage its growth, as laissez faire capitalism pits staggering urban wealth against grinding rural poverty; as the Middle Kingdom takes its place at the forefront of nations without, as yet, the mechanisms to ensure peace and justice within its borders and without.

Thus far, Mr. Harper has stumbled repeatedly as he seeks his own equilibrium in dealing with the China Question. But he is an intelligent and pragmatic man. He is able to learn.

How well he learns could help determine our prosperity and, in Canada's own quiet way, contribute to peace in the coming time.

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Related Information

Harper vows to promote human rights Friday, Dec. 04, 2009 09:17AM EST
Globe editorial: The tardy guest and the human touch Thursday, Dec. 03, 2009 11:39PM EST
Norman Spector: Harper’s not for kowtowing Friday, Dec. 04, 2009 08:53AM EST
Analysis: Public scolding likely long-planned Friday, Dec. 04, 2009 12:02AM EST
Latest Comments


12/5/2009 12:10:34 AM
Harper cares about human right ? Since when ?

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12/5/2009 12:08:06 AM
Harper Personally Directed Torture Cover-Up
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12/5/2009 12:05:32 AM
Harper would do well to mention specific human-rights issues rather than simply saying, "We will raise human-rights issues." For example, he could encourage the Chinese to allow greater freedom of speech, one of the basic freedoms that is in only the earliest stages of development in China. No doubt the Chinese government with its pseudo-newspapers/government-mouthpieces sees this as a fundamental weakness of Western democracies, seeing how they take their cues (e.g. critisism of Harper for "alienating Canada from China") from the CBC, Globe etc. in their own comments and criticisms of Harper. Which is an interesting contrast: Harper can only communicate to Chinese officials, whereas their communication is as much to Canadians and the Canadian media as to Harper, since these have the power in our democracy!

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