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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Baird Highlights Trade with China

July 18, 2012

Jessica Murphy, Parliamentary Bureau

Ottawa, July 18, 2012 – “Warm, cordial and productive” meetings marked the first day of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s bilateral visit to China, he said.

Speaking at a news conference in Beijing, Baird called China an “important ally” and highlighted growing economic ties between the two countries, noting Canada now ships more lumber to the Asian country than to the US.

“We get the importance of this relationship to prosperity,” he said.  “Obviously we value our trading relationship with the United States and Europe, but we recognize the future prosperity of Canada will count on future markets.” 

But Baird danced around questions relating to his government’s warming relationship with the Asian country – and whether it comes at the expense of its stance on human rights.

“We did have a good discussion on human rights.  I can say they were frank and open,” he said.

Pushed to comment on the fact his visit coincided with the 12th anniversary of the beginning of the persecution of the members of the spiritual discipline of Falun Gong, he said: “I did take the opportunity to raise that issue – the general issue – with my Chinese counterpart.”

John Tackaberry, with Amnesty International Canada, said he has “serious concerns” with shift in the Conservative Party’s stance on human rights in China.

“There has been a movement away from addressing human rights in a substantive sense, in a forceful way in the dialogue,” he said.

“We believe in direct discussion with people who are responsible. (But) quiet diplomacy can’t be so quiet it’s not audible to the general public or the recipient.”  Baird was also repeatedly questioned about the case of Chinese fugitive Lai Changxing, who sought refuge in Canada 12 years ago.

Canadian official recently tried to deport Lai back to China until a federal court granted him a temporary stay of deportation last week.

Lai has fought his return to China, where he faces allegations he helped mastermind a massive smuggling ring, on the grounds he could face torture or execution in his home country.

“The Chinese government recently made changes to capital punishment, which no longer covers white-collar crime,” Baird said.

Baird is spending three days in China meeting with senior government officials and Chinese and Canadian business leaders in Beijing and Shanghai.

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