30 November 2009
By William Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
OTTAWA, Canada – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will visit China on Wednesday, December 2 for the first time in his four year administration. Harper’s administration has been critical of China’s human rights record and until recently has ignored relations with the country. Economic concerns are now compelling him to improve relations with the emerging super power. Although Harper has said this will not affect Canadian values, some fear that Canada will become too soft on human rights issues in China.
China has a poor international image on human rights. Beijing has long claimed that they are trying to establish a democratic society, but arbitrary arrests, torture, oppression, and pervasive internet censorship are still common place. China also consistently defends other countries with equally bad human rights agendas.
Harper’s administration initially took a harsh view on China’s human rights record and did little to promote economic relations with the country. Harper himself has said he would not sell out Canadian values for the almighty dollar when referring to China. Members of his own cabinet have called China “a godless, totalitarian country with nuclear weapons aimed at us.”
Recently, however, Canada has been looking to improve economic relations with China as China is now projected to be the strongest economy in the world by 2050. Canadian Ministers have been more willing China in the last year including Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon who has visited the country three times. Liberal politicians once in the minority are now being called on more often for their expertise in establishing relations with China.
Human rights groups have been showing concern that Canada will now begin to overlook the pervasive human rights issues in China. The Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a Hong Kong based human rights organization sent a letter to Harper urging him to push the human rights agenda during his visit. Although they support Canadian relations with China, they have stressed that Canada should not forget their values on the subject of human rights. Demonstrations are also scheduled in both Montreal and Ottawa to urge Harper to stand up for human rights in China and Tibet during his visit.
For more information, please see:
Globe and Mail – A More Sophisticated Engagement With China – 30 November 2009
Toronto Star – Will Values Be Baggage as Harper Heads to China? – 30 November 2009
Canadian Press – Harpers long, Winding Road To China – 29 November 2009
Canada Views – Ottowa and Montreal Rise Up For Tibet – 29 November 2009