Just days before Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was to embark on an official state visit to China, Beijing announced that one reporter who was to be part of the delegation would not be allowed to enter the country and denied him a visa.
China and Canada signed various agreements on Wednesday covering the energy, investment and other sectors, as relations between Ottawa and Beijing continue to improve following a decision by the Harper government to soften its rhetoric on China’s human rights situation.
Looking on as a delegation led by Harper brushed elbows with Chinese officials during the three-day visit were oil and business executives, as well as a retinue of reporters. However, one figure was missing: Matthew Little of the Epoch Times, an accredited member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.
Beijing’s decision was hardly surprising, given that the paper has a long tradition of criticizing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its treatment of activists, religious groups and ethnic minorities in China.
Predictable though this was, the denial of Little’s entry visa is yet another example of the manner in which, little by little, China uses its influence to warp liberal democracies by imposing a series of conditions for conducting business.
The visit was far too important for Harper to have allowed the issue of one hapless reporter to derail everything — and Beijing knows that. As long as countries seeking to build a relationship with China continue to approach it as beggars rather than equals, CCP officials will have little compunction in drawing red lines over free speech or human rights.
We’ve now entered a period that we could call “diplomacy with Chinese characteristics,” where the promise of profit through “strategic” relations with China is accompanied by silence on a variety of issues. This is an age where it has become customary and increasingly acceptable, it seems, for China to request that partners exclude potential critics like Little, who is just one among many journalists, writers and academics who have been sidelined for refusing to hold their silence.
It is interesting to note that rarely, if ever, have liberal governments answered Beijing in kind whenever top Chinese officials visited their country. When was the last time a Western country denied a visa to a Chinese reporter from, say, the CCP-run People’s Daily, for promoting Han chauvinism in a manner that borders on the xenophobic, or encouraged the use of force against Tibetans, Uighurs, Taiwanese, Falun Gong practitioners — or any of the claimants to disputed islets in the South China Sea? China takes, while the rest of the world gives, slowly bringing about the “Beijing consensus” that Stefan Halper warns against in his book of the same title.
Taiwan under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has also jumped on the bandwagon, allowing in a number of CCP officials, mayors and thinkers who, under normal circumstances, should probably have been barred entry. In Taiwan and elsewhere, it has become permissible for governments to deny visits by figures such as the Dalai Lama or Uighur leader-in-exile Rebiya Kadeer, but whoever called for similar measures to be taken against Chinese officials is accused of “hating China” or irrationality.
There is nothing wrong with conducting business with China. Such a development is, in fact, natural and inevitable, given its economic growth and increasing importance on the international stage. However, this doesn’t mean that in the process of engagement we should lose the courage to stand up for what we believe in. Some countries, like Canada and Australia, have an abundance of natural resources that are coveted by China. Could this not be used as leverage in negotiations with China, allowing these countries to negotiate from a position of strength and principle, rather than as supplicants?