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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Stand up for our values with China

July 25, 2011

By Kate Heartfield, Ottawa Citizen July 21, 2011
 
 
One of the best things about these Conservatives, in their first years in power, was their willingness to be slightly more honest about China (and other authoritarian regimes, such as Iran and Burma) than their Liberal predecessors. It was a very subtle shift - it's not like we cut any ties with China - but it was enough to make parts of the Ottawa establishment crazy. There were opinion pieces sneering about naive amateurs dabbling in foreign affairs.
Well, Stephen Harper doesn't have to worry about whether anyone sneers anymore, and he's certainly no amateur. Soon after Harper won his majority this spring, he told Maclean's editor Kenneth Whyte that he's learned how important foreign policy is to Canada - that, indeed, it's "almost everything," since every domestic concern, from public health to jobs, now has an international dimension.
But he didn't disavow his early commitment to human rights. Harper said he was committed to his vision for foreign policy: "It isn't enough, in this day and age, to say we get along with people. We have to have a clear sense of where we want to be and where we would like our partners to go. . Whether they're economic challenges or security challenges or anything else, we better know what we're trying to get out of this and where we're going to align ourselves, and it's not just good enough to say, 'everybody likes us.' That is not a sufficient way to protect your interests when your interests are so deeply enmeshed with everybody else's . we take pretty clear stands . We think it's pretty important that our long-run interests are tied somewhat to our trade, but that they're more fundamentally tied to the kind of values we have in the world: freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law. We see over time - it's not an ironclad rule - but those societies that promote those values tend to share our interests, and those that do not tend to, on occasion, if not frequently, become threats to us."
So, Harper thinks foreign affairs is important, and wants to emphasize freedom and human rights. He signals the new importance of the file by making John Baird foreign affairs minister, and sends him to China.
And what does Baird do in China? Well, he mouths a lot of Chrétienera pap about Canada's "strategic partnership" with China and our "common interests." There was the usual assurance that human rights were discussed, but no signs China was willing to meet Canada partway on anything.
For every example of China working in "strategic partnership" with Canada on global security these days, there's at least one example of China working counter to Canada's interests. When the International Criminal Court indicted Moammar Gadhafi in June, China feted another of the region's indicted war criminals, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan - making it clear what it thinks of the ICC and of "interference" with tyrants. It's hard to see how Canada's interests regarding the outcome of the Arab Spring align with those of the Communist Party of China. In other parts of the world, such as Burma, China has directly undermined Canada's efforts.
It's not as if we agree with China on everything except Google searches and the death penalty. The way the Chinese regime understands global security is fundamentally different from the vision Harper sketched in that Maclean's interview. Given China's immense power, that matters. Even if China's inability to share our values never makes it a threat to us, the countries China supports do and will become threats.
Standing up for our values doesn't mean we can't have a respectful diplomatic relationship with China. But surely any Canadian minister has a responsibility not to whitewash the actions of the Chinese regime or show disrespect to the brave Chinese citizens who are standing up for freedom and paying the price - right now.
Baird said, in response to a reporter's question, "When you say millions have been killed by the regime, I mean, obviously countries we work well with like Russia and Germany have been through challenges in their history, but we now count them as allies."
Comparing 21st-century China to 21st-century Russia or Germany is gobsmackingly wrong. Both Russia and Germany did away with their totalitarian governments, somewhat conspicuously in both cases.
Most significantly - and in stark contrast to, say, Germany - there is no honest acknowledgment of the "challenges in their history" by the Chinese state. The propaganda organ of the Communist Party of China just editorialized about how peaceful and free Tibet has been since Mao's soldiers marched in.
The success of Canada's relationship with China should never come down to whether we managed to avoid saying anything controversial. I remind the prime minister: It's not good enough to say "everybody likes us." That's not a sufficient way to protect our interests.
Kate Heartfield is the Citizen's deputy editorial pages editor and is on Twitter as @kateheartfield.
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