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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."

Harper says human rights remain a concern with China

December 3, 2009

(CP) December 2, 2009

BEIJING ? Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he is not backing off on
human rights while in China, although he insists the relationship
between the two countries is sound.

Making his first visit in four years as prime minister, Harper arrived
in China late Wednesday afternoon confronted with a front-page headline
and story in an official newspaper declaring the relationship was in
urgent need of repair.

The English-language China Daily carried a second story that bluntly
declares the behaviour of the Harper government since being elected in
2006 as causing the political trust between the two governments to "hit
rock bottom, adversely affecting the development of bilateral ties. "

The article lists a series of what the Chinese regard as provocations,
including the tardiness of the visit, Harper's failure to attend the
Beijing Olympics in 2008, as well his party making a "big fuss" over
"the Falun Gong, the Taiwan question, the Tibet issue, "China's
espionage threat" and "China's investment threat."

In his first year in office, the prime minister famously declared that
he would not sacrifice human rights for "the almighty dollar."

An editorial in the Global Times, an organ of the Communist party,
accused Harper of "appeasing his electoral base" and having turned "a
cold shoulder to China."

The papers, however, cited the visit as a golden opportunity to set the
relationship back on track.

In a meeting with reporters shortly after landing, Harper said he wanted
to strengthen relations between the two countries and particularly
expand trade and business opportunities.

But he said he believes he can achieve the goal while still staying true
to what he called Canadian values.

"Canadian values are part and parcel of who we are," he said.

"Those are the things we live by, those are the things that give us the
prosperity and peaceful and pluralistic society that we enjoy. So we
never check those things at the door."

He added that Canada has a "good and frank" relationship with China and
believes the trip will be productive.

Several human rights organizations in Canada have called on Harper to
not back off on human rights while in China.

David Kilgour, a former Liberal minister for Asia-Pacific and a leading
critic of China's human rights record, said in an earlier interview that
the record shows that even after Harper's "almighty dollar" remark,
trade between the two countries did not suffer.

In fact, it has growth to the point that it is now Canada's second
largest trading relationship with a value of $53 billion.

It remains to be seen, however, how high on the agenda human rights will
come during Harper's private meetings with President Hu Jintao and
Premier Wen Jiabao.

Given China's growing important to Canada as an economic counter-balance
to the struggling U.S., as well as emergence as a political power, many
believe Harper will tread lighter than in the past on tweaking the
giant's nose on human rights.

"We need the Chinese more than we needed then five or six years ago,"
said Robert Bothwell, an historian with the international section at the
University of Toronto.
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