Friday, June 16, 2006, Page A24
has a long tradition of receiving foreign guests and then utterly ignoring what
they say. Today's Communist leaders are no more fond
of foreigners' lectures than emperors of old, especially if the subject is
human rights. Canada should
have known this when Beijing agreed to begin a
human-rights "dialogue" with Ottawa
in 1997. In return for Canada's pledge not to co-sponsor a motion chastising
China at the United Nations Human Rights Commission, China's leaders promised
they would listen when Canadian officials came to talk about rights violations
Always unpromising, this process has now been revealed as a complete
charade. As Globe China
correspondent Geoffrey York reports in today's paper, a report by Brock University
scholar Charles Burton has found that "much of the dialogue consists of a
prepared script, read by Chinese Foreign Ministry officials and repeated at
dialogues with other countries. The content of the script is well-known in
advance and of little interest to either side."
China sends low-level
functionaries from the wrong ministries to its annual meetings with the
Canadians and there is no evidence that those functionaries report back to
their superiors about Ottawa's complaints, which
cover issues from Beijing's treatment of Tibet to the heavy use of the death penalty in China.
Over time, Beijing
has downgraded its delegation to the meetings and dragged its feet on arranging
them. As Prof. Burton puts it, "It's very hard to identify progress on
human rights as a result of this dialogue."
leaders are to blame for refusing to take their commitment to Canada seriously. But Ottawa was foolish to think they would, given the mixed
message it sends to Beijing.
Canadian officials preach about human rights one moment and enthuse about China's trade
potential the next. The enthusing is far louder than the preaching, and the few
lonely officials sent off to ritual dialogues with the Chinese are far
outnumbered by the hordes of eager business executives, premiers, mayors and
prime ministers who troop to China
to smile, shake hands and sign deals with any Chinese official who will see
This is not to say that Canada
should cease trading with China.
To isolate the People's Republic would be both undesirable and, in this
interdependent world, impossible. But Ottawa
should put more emphasis on human rights when it deals with China's
leaders. The rights dialogues, however well-intentioned, have turned into a way
for both sides to shunt an uncomfortable issue onto a railway siding so it
doesn't get in the way of the big freight train -- mutual commercial advantage.
It's time to stop the charade.