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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?"

Eyes are on China, for good or bad

March 24, 2008

aPosted By Barbara Mcdougall
Chatham Daily News, Canada
March 22, 2008

En route to Beijing on Air Canada recently, I decided to buy last-minute
gifts for my Chinese hosts from the airline's shopping magazine.

I chose two cute little stuffed moose wearing cute little scarves with
cute little maple-leaf logos. How Canadian can you get, I thought? And
of course, guess where the cute little moose were made: China, of course.

China is increasingly not only the moose, but the elephant in every
room, in every international organization, in every diplomatic
discussion. It is an elephant that is welcomed in African and Latin
American countries because it comes bearing gifts: investment dollars -
lots of them - to drill oil wells and develop mineral resources and then
to buy the output. It is an elephant welcomed by dictators and tyrants
(as in Burma and Sudan) because no one else will speak to them or
advance their interests in the broader world. But in the developed
world, the elephant is seen to cast a large shadow. Its cheaply produced
manufactured products are blamed, rightly or wrongly, for the collapse
of the "rust belt" industries of the U.S. Its move from light to heavy
manufacturing has created carbon emissions on an unprecedented scale.
Employment is high and labour, despite increased wages, remains cheap,
while health and safety practices do not meet even minimal international
standards.

The country is sucking up oil, copper and other commodities at
unprecedented rates. China's economy, long recognized as one of the
world's largest, continues on a trajectory of relentless growth.

China's influence has expanded accordingly. Because of its massive
capital investments, it is seen as a friend of struggling,
underdeveloped countries, where western nations are often seen to
provide only paltry foreign aid accompanied by paternalistic lectures on
how to behave. China doesn't ask questions about human rights (its own
record being what it is), or good governance, or corruption, before
committing a billion or two to develop a new sulphur property in an
unsavoury African republic. These relationships buy votes for China in
many international fora: not least the United Nations, but also, of
course, in the byzantine world of the Olympic Games.

In large numbers, Western countries, too, supported China's bid to host
the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. The Olympics, of course, are "not
political," according to the International Olympic Committee, proving
only that the air the committee breathes in its Switzerland home is much
too thin.

Where there is an international gathering, and especially a gathering
with money and publicity, there is politics.

The Tibetans who bravely staged rallies recently in Lhasa, Tibet's
capital, and in a sprinkling of other capitals around the world, know
this. They also know that routing the Olympic torch through Tibet is an
in-your-face taunt to Western countries, still attempting to sympathize
with Tibet without upsetting the economic behemoth that is today's
China. You heard it here first: as the Games approach, and the torch
wends its way closer to opening day, there will be not one government
that pulls its team, not one high-level official that turns in his
premium seat at the opening ceremonies, not one corporate sponsor that
tears up its cheque, in a gesture of support for Tibet.

Realpolitique has taken over.

Our own prime minister made many Canadians proud when he publicly met
with the Dalai Lama, and stood firm in the face of Beijing's ritual
protest. But the truth is that Canada is too small and China is too big
for the former to fly in the face of the latter for long. In a speech
last week, Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier made a specific reference to
"one China," the first time in many years the government has not mumbled
its way past the Taiwan issue, a diplomatic step closer to China.

This does not mean Canada has abandoned its policy of raising human
rights with Chinese officials, nor does it mean Canada embraces China
and all it stands for. China is still a country with its own (very)
long-term plan, still a country apart, still a country that plays its
cards close to its vest, still not what our hockey-loving culture would
call "a team player."

Canada is used to dealing with elephants: it deals with the United
States every day. What the Canadian government is doing is recognizing,
as all our allies do, that it must grit its teeth and find a way to get
along with the other, perhaps less friendly elephant.

- Barbara J. McDougall is adviser to Aird @ Berlis, LLP, and a former
Secretary of State for External Affairs.
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