It didn’t take long for the Canadian government to show its displeasure with Beijing’s knee-jerk reaction to dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month.
No sooner had Liu’s wife in turn been placed under house arrest by the Chinese security apparatus than Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was telling an audience: “The friendship between Canada and China has ... grown in recent years in the context of a frank and respectful dialogue on the universal principles of human rights and the rule of law.”
Right. Harper also told the conference celebrating 40 years of official Sino-Canadian relations that Canada could now talk to Beijing about human rights in a “respectful” manner that (hold your breath) would not harm trade relations.
It should be mentioned at the outset that Harper’s remarks came as he was hailing the “strategic partnership” (here Ottawa is plagiarizing Beijing’s favorite terminology) that has developed between the two countries — and by this he means Canada starting to look more and more like a source of energy for the Asian superpower.
Not so long ago, Harper was getting heat from the Canadian business community for taking too firm a stance on human rights in China, for vowing, less than four years ago, not to sell out Canadian values to the “almighty dollar.”
What happened, then, to so radically alter Harper’s views? Certainly it wasn’t any perceivable improvement in the human rights situation in China, for had this been the case, there would have been no validity to awarding Liu the Peace Prize. Liu received the prize because the situation remains bad in China.
Was it, perchance, the “almighty dollar”?
China’s “insatiable” thirst for energy and natural resources, added to Canada’s positioning as an “energy superpower,” have put the two countries in a position where they can cooperate to their mutual benefit, Harper said. Sadly, the prime minister doesn’t seem to understand that an improved human rights situation in China would also benefit Canada, as it is becoming increasingly clear that the more powerful China becomes, the easier it gets for it to impose its authoritarian values, the so-called “Beijing consensus,” on its partners — Canada included.
This about-face, furthermore, makes Harper sound like a fraud. “Frank” and “respectful” dialogue on human rights and the rule of law with Beijing means bending over backwards to avoid offending its sensibilities (and thereby hurt trade relations) by pointing out the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) serious shortcomings on both items. Harper’s is a total abdication of his country’s responsibility to take the lead, as a developed liberal democracy, in shaping the human rights dialogue with China.
While it could be said that a confrontational approach over the decades has for the most part failed to bring about hoped-for liberalization in the Chinese political system, even more certain is that not raising the issue with Beijing will encourage its leadership to show even less restraint in the treatment of its dissidents and minorities.
Any country deserving of respect should be able to transcend its economic potential and engage the world in full confidence of its value system. If, as Harper argues, China’s thirst for energy were “insatiable,” wouldn’t it covet Canada’s rich natural resources even if Ottawa continued to criticize the abuses and atrocities committed to ensure the survival of the CCP? Why, then, the unnecessary concession?