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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Harper must tell Chinese their treatment of Tibet is unacceptable

December 3, 2009

Raising human rights issues hasn't hurt Canada's business with China


DECEMBER 1, 2009

On Dec. 2, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper lands in Beijing for his
first official visit to China, he could do far worse than to emulate
fellow-conservative leader Ronald Reagan during the former president's
visit to West Berlin in 1987. Reagan's trip will forever be etched in
history by those famous four words: "Tear down this wall."

What words, indeed what acts, will define the prime minister's visit to

As the prime minister prepares to depart, he must be guided first and
foremost by an impartial analysis of the interrelationship of Canada's
economic relationship with China and the communist regime's brutal human
rights record. The two are as inseparable with China as they are with
Zimbabwe or Burma.

Business groups such as the Canada China Business Council have argued
forcefully that raising China's human rights record is bad for Canadian
business. But if raising human rights issues has had any impact on
Canadian business, the record indicates that Canada should be doing it
even more often and more loudly.

 From 1997 to 2008, Canadian exports to China increased from $2 billion
to nearly $12.7 billion in 2008. Exports are up a further seven per cent
for the first five months of 2009.

The increase has been constant, except for 2002 when exports fell by
$400 million. As a percentage of total Canadian exports, China's share
has tripled to 2.71 per cent of total exports during this period.

Yet, when Prime Minister Harper meets with Chinese President Hu in
Beijing, 1,381 imprisoned Tibetans will still be awaiting trials
following last year's predominately peaceful uprising across Tibet. Two
others were executed by firing squad last month.

The few trials that have taken place have been conducted in secrecy and
in the absence of basic legal oversight and due process. In 2008, a
number of Chinese lawyers were even prevented from defending Tibetan
citizens in court.

Human Rights Watch has revealed a judicial system in China so highly
politicized as to preclude any possibility of fair trials for Tibetans.

And while the Chinese regime rejects the term "political prisoners,"
these 1,381 Tibetans are indeed political prisoners in their own homeland.

It's unlikely that the prime minister would be allowed to travel freely
to Tibet on this visit. However, if he were to visit Tibet, he would
find that religious repression in Tibet is "high" and that the Chinese
government's control over monasteries and other religious institutions
is "extraordinarily tight," as reported in October by the U.S. state

A common theme throughout the state department's International Religious
Freedom Report is the interference by Chinese authorities in the
traditional norms and depth of study of Tibetan Buddhism, ranging from
limiting the number of monks at monasteries, limiting where monks can
travel for religious training-- from refusing to issue passports for
foreign travel through to refusing permission to travel within a single
county; and from co-opting the education of young reincarnated lamas to
pressuring government employees to withdraw their children from all
forms of religious education.

This report also documents numerous cases of Buddhist monks and nuns
"subjected to extrajudicial punishments, such as beatings and
deprivation of food, water, and sleep for long periods," whereas "the
bodies of some people who [...] died during interrogation were disposed
of secretly rather than being returned to their families."

The U.S. state department's 2008 Human Rights Report on China notes that
"other serious human rights abuses included ... the use of forced
labour, including prison labour" and that "the (Chinese) government
continued to monitor, harass, detain, arrest and imprison journalists,
writers, activists, and defence lawyers and their families, many of whom
were seeking to exercise their rights under the law."

When the prime minister meets President Hu, he must move beyond pro
forma statements of support for Tibet in order to make real progress
toward a fair and lasting resolution for the Tibetan people and to make
Tibet a substantive and results-oriented part of the visit's agenda. We
hope that he will also speak forcefully for the millions of Chinese
reformers who seek a free and democratic future for China.

In 1990, Nelson Mandela visited Canada to pay special tribute to our
government for "continuing along the path charted by Prime Minister John
Diefenbaker, who acted against apartheid because he knew that no person
of conscience could stand aside as a crime against humanity was committed."

Canadians can only hope that the acts that ultimately define the prime
minister's visit to China will resonate clearly with the Chinese
government that Canada does not stand aside when crimes against humanity
are committed.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of the Canada Tibet Committee
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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