Harper downplays Chinese rebuff
Description: Prime Minister Stephen Harper is downplaying the significance of an apparent snub by China's president Hu Jintao, but in suggesting it is due to China's reluctance to talk "frankly" about "human rights" he may have worsened matters.
Date: 15 November 2006
Author: Tonda MacCharles
Source: Toronto Star
ANCHORAGE—Prime Minister Stephen Harper is downplaying the significance of an apparent snub by China's president Hu Jintao, but in suggesting it is due to China's reluctance to talk "frankly" about "human rights" he may have worsened matters.
En route to Vietnam for the annual economic summit of Asia-Pacific countries, Harper told reporters he does not know the "official" reason why the Chinese proposed a meeting between the two leaders and then withdrew from it.
But Harper made clear he believes his intention to raise a "range of human rights issues in China," and particularly the case of a jailed Burlington man, Huseyincan Celil, was at play.
Harper said his government has been more "frank" and "vocal" than past ones about promoting Canadian values, and "we will not accept conditions for discussions."
"I think Canadians want us to promote our trade relations worldwide. We do that. But I don't think Canadians want us to sell out important Canadian values of belief in democracy, freedom and human rights — they don't want us to sell that out to the almighty dollar."
Harper said trade ties between the countries will remain strong.
He said there is a "balance" to be struck between promoting "positive and respectful relations" and defending Canadian values and interests, especially where individual rights are jeopardized.
"When a Canadian citizen is taken from a third country, and imprisoned in China, this is a serious concern to this country," said Harper. "We were very critical of past governments for not vocally defending the interests of Canadian citizens who were mistreated abroad."
China's human rights record has been raised by previous Canadian governments. During a visit by Hu to Ottawa last year, then-prime minister Paul Martin said he had a full discussion of human rights with the Chinese president and had raised the specific cases of 10 Falun Gong members.
Critics say Harper's government has fuelled tensions by accusing China of industrial espionage and by granting honorary Canadian citizenship to the Dalai Lama, whom China regards as a separatist. As well, Harper's parliamentary secretary, Jason Kenney, has long criticized China's human rights record.
Michael Byers, a professor of international politics at the University of British Columbia, said the Harper government could be faulted for not playing by the rules of diplomatic courtesy.
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