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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

(Canadian Prime Minister) Harper and China

January 21, 2008

Gerald Flood

16 January 2008
Winnipeg Free Press

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien has joined the chorus urging Stephen
Harper to put aside his principles and make an official visit to China,
Canada's second largest trading partner. "You know, he should come," Mr.
Chrétien said Thursday. "It's extremely important."

After two years in power, Mr. Harper has still not visited China; nor
has he offered an explanation, but then none is needed. Mr. Harper's
government has not enjoyed good relations with the Asian giant over a
variety of human rights issues, from the suppression of Tibet to the
treatment of its own people and the denial of many basic human rights.
China has embraced modernity in a number of areas, but its political
system remains a relic from the past.

Mr. Harper is right to stand on principle. Canada would look a little
awkward if it were to demand human rights for the people of Afghanistan,
while turning a blind eye to abuses in China. Consistency is not always
a virtue, but then hypocrisy is always a failing easily detected and
despised. Nevertheless, there is still no reason why Mr. Harper cannot
visit China, assuming the Chinese will have him. But if he does make the
trip, it should be with head held high, principles intact.

The effort is worthwhile because China is a country like no other. With
a population of more than one billion, it is now one of the world's
leading economic and military powers (as well as a major polluter).
Bilateral trade between the two countries is roughly $45 billion, a
staggering figure that reflects Canada's wealth and China's ravenous
appetite for imports such as wood, metals and other raw materials.

It's important to note that the business relationship between the two
countries is still strong, despite the cooling at the political level.
This shows that it is possible to stand up for important political
principles, without risking the two-way communication and understanding
that occurs naturally in trading relationships. International Trade
Minister David Emerson has made at least two official trips to China to
talk business. He was welcomed both times and there was no evidence that
trade has suffered because of political squabbling.

It would be unfortunate, but not devastating, if Mr. Harper never visits
China. However, it would be disgraceful if he landed in Beijing and
grovelled for forgiveness. As he himself has said, there are things more
important than the "almighty dollar."
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