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Governor General’s visit caps “Canadian fall” in China

October 28, 2013

October 25, 2013 – Canadian Governor General David Johnston’s recent visit to China capped off what has been termed “the Canadian fall” by officials both here in Canada and in China.  Canada’s diplomatic offensive, which coincided with China’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council, concluded with Johnston’s tour of several Chinese cities after a series of ministerial visits by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Trade Minister Edward Fast, and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. 

A common theme among the visits was the deepening of economic cooperation between Canada and China, particularly in the areas of telecommunications, resource extraction, investment, finance, and environmental enhancement according to media reports.  While Canada seeks Chinese investment particularly in the energy sector, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pressed Johnston for a quick ratification of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPPA).  The agreement has been stuck at the Cabinet level for more than a year since it was signed by both governments in September 2012.

Governor General Johnston and Minister Baird visited Sichuan Province which has experienced escalating tensions in recent months.  In July, police opened fire on a religious gathering in Tawu injuring at least twenty. In September, mass demonstrations against mining projects around Yulshul County resulted in a harsh crackdown by military and paramilitary troops. Shortly before Minister Baird’s visit a high-level Tibetan monk, who was also UK citizen, was stabbed to death in Chengdu in mysterious circumstances.

While in Chengdu, Governor General Johnston gave a key note presentation at the 6th Western China International Cooperation Forum on October 23.  The Forum promotes China’s “western development strategy” which has been a highly controversial policy among Tibetans who claim it has exacerbated human rights abuses and contributed to economic marginalization of the Tibetan people. 

Both Minister Baird and Governor General Johnston announced before their visits that human rights would be featured in bilateral meetings with Chinese counterparts. Governor General Johnston promised that the promotion of human rights is an area of "continual discussion" that has been "respectful" and will continue in the future.  It remains unclear however, when and if the “Canadian fall” included any attention to the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibet. Such discussions commonly take place behind closed doors and do not feature in public reporting.

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