Wed, Jan 16, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Finding Canada's Achilles' heel

By J. Michael Cole 寇謚將

During his trip to China last week, Canadian Trade Minister David Emerson said he was prepared to appeal to the WTO to force China to allow its citizens to visit Canada as tourists, hoping to overturn a longstanding policy on Beijing's part that Emerson argues is hurting the Canadian economy.

While Beijing allows Chinese nationals to visit about 130 countries, Canada -- a major trade partner of China -- continues to be denied Approved Destination Status (ADS). Beijing's negotiation of an ADS agreement with the US, meanwhile, is putting Canada's tourism industry at a disadvantage, Ottawa argues. Chinese tourists visiting the US would, if permitted by Beijing, likely include parts of Canada in their itinerary. Furthermore, ADS would allow Canadian travel companies to promote travel packages on the Chinese market.

Emerson and Ottawa deny having been informed of the reasons why talks on the matter, begun in 2005, have stalled, but observers speculate that Ottawa's refusal to hand over fugitive refugee claimant Lai Changxing (賴昌星), wanted in China on smuggling charges, may be behind the impasse.

This request has caused the Canadian government many headaches.

Canadian law stipulates that an individual can only be extradited if, after conducting a pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA), the government is confident that the individual, along with his or her relatives, will not, in line with the Geneva Convention, be persecuted, tortured or subjected to cruel or unusual treatment after being handed over to the claimant.

Since Lai fled from Hong Kong to Vancouver in 1999, Ottawa has conducted a number of PRRAs, and the conclusions -- which should be fairly easy to imagine, conditions in China being what they are -- did not vary much over the years.

But last year Beijing gave Ottawa assurances it would not execute Lai if he were extradited, resulting in a ruling that Lai could safely be handed over to Chinese authorities. That decision was then overturned by Federal Court Justice Yves de Montigny, who wisely countered that Beijing's promises were hardly reliable. As a result, Lai remains in Canada, a circumstance that continues to poison relations between Ottawa and Beijing.

Another reason given for the stalled ADS talks is Canada's "fierce" -- as one news agency recently put it -- criticism of China about human rights and, late last year, the official visit of the Dalai Lama to Ottawa, where he was received by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"Fierce"? Hungry with trade opportunities and seeking to level the imbalance in the US$42 billion two-way trade between the two countries (China is now Canada's third-largest export market), Ottawa's so-called criticism of Beijing's deplorable record on human rights has been anything but fierce. In fact, as Emerson's visit has highlighted, Canada has been more than willing to feign myopia to maximize its chances of doing business with China.

The criticism theory does not hold water as a reason for Beijing denying Canada an ADS agreement, as Ottawa's criticism of Beijing has not been more vociferous than that of other countries, such as the US, with whom China has tourism agreements.

With China's hunger for trade (including tourism) as ebullient as Canada's, the sticking point must therefore be sufficiently threatening to Beijing as to compel it to sacrifice its opportunities. So what is it?

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