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Martin has some explaining to do
Martin has some explaining to do
Mindelle Jacobs
February 2, 2005
Prime Minister Paul Martin couldn't be bothered to visit the relatives of a deposed Communist party boss last month to offer condolences over his death. Two decades ago, however, Zhao Ziyang, then-premier of the People's Republic of China, was greeted with warm applause when he spoke in Ottawa. He was, in fact, the first Communist leader to address Parliament. Well, that's politics. One minute you're a star. The next, you're a nobody. In Canada, though, if you disagree with the government, you can yell your head off in the House of Commons if you're a politician or on the street, in the media or over the Internet if you're an ordinary citizen and life goes on. In China, you can disappear if you step out of line. "Despite a few positive steps, no attempt was made to introduce the fundamental legal and institutional reforms necessary to bring an end to serious human-rights violations," Amnesty International said about China in its 2004 report. Tens of thousands of people continued to be detained and others were at serious risk of torture in violation of their rights to freedom of expression, the report noted. In China's haste to pretty up Beijing in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics, hundreds of people are being evicted from older homes which are being demolished. Scores of practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement have been tortured to death in recent years, Amnesty International pointed out. Political activists and Internet users have been arrested and jailed on vaguely defined charges relating to "state secrets" or "subversion." Notably, Amnesty International expressed concern that the world "was taking a softer line on China by confining its human-rights concerns to private dialogue sessions rather than public scrutiny." Those comments seem apt given Martin's decision not to visit the Zhao home. The family wanted politicians to stay away, Martin explained. Strange, then, that Conservative MP Jason Kenney, the first foreign dignitary to offer condolences to the Zhao family, appeared to be warmly received. As University of Alberta Chinese politics professor Wenran Jiang told the Sun the other day, the Zhao family would have welcomed Martin. Paul Evans, Acting Director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, also feels that Martin should have paid his respects. "I don't know that he made enough of the passing of (Zhao)," says Evans, noting that the former Communist party boss was the architect behind China's economic improvements. Martin lit into Kenney for raising the issue in the House of Commons Monday, accusing him of trying to score cheap political points in China. But it's the prime minister who needs to do some explaining. Visiting the Zhao home would have symbolized Canada's commitment to human rights. By not going, Martin sent the message that trade is more important. After all, China is now our second-largest trading partner. We get electronic machinery, toys, games, sporting goods, furniture, clothing and a host of other goods from China. Just try shopping without buying something made in China. In return, China gets things like wood pulp, organic chemicals, fertilizers and mechanical appliances from us. The pursuit of trade and human rights aren't incompatible goals, says Evans. "We value both but, being practical, the commercial side is leading," he says. So spare a thought for jailed dissidents the next time you buy something made in China.
 
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