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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?"

Fragile China

February 8, 2010

The Calgary Herald
February 7, 2010

China's bully-boy attitude, manifested in its
delisting of the University of Calgary as an
accredited school after the U of C bestowed an
honorary degree on the Dalai Lama, should cow no
one in this democratic society.

But it should serve as a wake-up call to those
who may be lulled into complacency about China
and tempted to think that because China is
growing in global importance as a trade partner,
it is making equal strides toward attaining more
western ways of thought. It most definitely is
not, and nobody should lose sight of that fact.

Noses in the Chinese government hierarchy are
severely out of joint, apparently because the U
of C awarded the Dalai Lama the degree. This
could affect the status of the approximately 600
Chinese national students on campus who hail from
Hong Kong and China. It should come as no
surprise that China appears not to care how its
petty, retaliatory behaviour will affect its own nationals abroad.

The U of C has nothing to apologize for, or to
regret. The Dalai Lama is a renowned spiritual
leader, who has been awarded numerous honorary
degrees around the world, including three from
other Canadian universities. Nor should any
western university censure itself or make
concessions to the manipulative grumblings of
China. Universities have every right to grant
degrees to whomever they please, and this
incident should deter none of them from
continuing that tradition. Caving in to a bully's
behaviour only further encourages the bully to
continue that behaviour, because it brings results.

That doesn't mean Alberta education officials
should respond in kind or seek some sort of
retaliatory action against China. That would only
be stooping to the scurrilous level of behaviour
the Chinese are exhibiting. Advanced Education
Minister Doug Horner is taking the right
approach. He wants to preserve the good aspects
of the reciprocal relationship with China, while
focusing specifically on dealing with the
problematic part of it. Horner says he'd like "to
see the situation rectified as soon as possible,"
and that "we'll talk to them to see what we can do."

This is the fine line that always has to be tread
in dealing with China, and one that's vital on
the business front. China is growing in
importance as a trading partner, but Canada must
carefully balance that out by not neglecting to
keep the very real issue of Chinese human rights
abuses in mind. That's one reason Prime Minister
Stephen Harper rightly delayed his first trip to
China for so long. Likewise, Alberta needs to
encourage open exchanges with China, and to let
the Chinese know that students are welcome here,
for slamming doors over the Dalai Lama incident accomplishes nothing.

Yet, Horner must also make clear that Alberta
will not be intimidated or dictated to, and that
no apologies will be issued to placate China, either.
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