Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s current tour through Asia comes amidst upheaval in the Chinese regime, which some say offers the minister a rare opportunity to push for basic freedoms.
Baird began his two-week tour of several Asian nations on Saturday. On Wednesday, calls from Canada asked him to remember that his efforts to build ties with China should not overlook ongoing torture and murder under the ruling communist regime.
Baird left for Asia on Saturday for a two-week tour of several countries in hopes of “enhancing relations and advancing Canadian interests and Canadian values,” according to a statement.
The China portion of his trip comes amidst seismic upheaval within the regime.
Speaking to reporters from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he was attending the first of two days at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, Baird said he was using his meetings to advance Canadian values and secure opportunities among ASEAN nations.
“The economic potential here is immense,” he said.
Around 600 million people live in the 10 ASEAN nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Baird noted the nations performed well during the downturn and generated $1.8 trillion in 2010.
Baird will next visit Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines, and Shanghai before returning to Canada on July 22.
The China portion of Baird’s trip comes amid seismic upheaval within the regime as public unrest reaches record levels and key figures within the Chinese Communist Party who rose under former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin begin to be purged.
Those figures are closely associated with Jiang’s attempt to eradicate the Falun Gong spiritual practice.
Figures who rose in the ensuing arrests and killings of Falun Gong practitioners include former Chinese commerce minister Bo Xilai and security chief Zhou Yongkong—two men who made a name for themselves with particularly brutal repression of Falun Gong in the areas then under their purview.
Bo has since been purged and high-level sources in Beijing tell The Epoch Times that premier Wen Jianbao, with leader Hu Jintao’s backing, has succeeded in efforts to put Zhou under investigation.
Well-placed sources in Beijing have also told The Epoch Times that there is a consensus among key Party leaders in the current and future leadership to redress the crackdown on Falun Gong and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Baird said Wednesday that he was not sure of his agenda in Shanghai and whether he would have an opportunity to speak publicly about the persecution of Falun Gong on the July 20 anniversary.
‘We Need to do the Right Thing’
Earlier that day in Canada, Falun Gong adherents said they hoped Baird would make public statements urging the regime to address its human rights abuses.
“We need to make a choice to do the right thing,” said Lucy Zhou of the Falun Dafa Association of Canada.
Speaking during a press conference on Parliament Hill, Zhou said Baird has a rare opportunity to speak for human rights on the anniversary of the crackdown on Falun Gong.
“The elimination campaign against Falun Gong is a crime against humanity,” said Zhou.
“Free and democratic societies have a crucial role to play in ending these atrocities. On this tragic anniversary, Canada should lend its voice to those suffering in China, and to protect human dignity.”
Zhou noted that there are more Falun Gong believers imprisoned in China than any other group of prisoners of conscience anywhere in the world.
“They number in the hundreds of thousands in any given time,” she said.
Around 120 Chinese formerly persecuted in China for practicing Falun Gong have since come to Canada, said Zhou.
There are also eight family members of Canadians currently imprisoned in China for practicing Falun Gong. Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese self-improvement practice based on cultivating truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance.
Besides major developments in China, Baird also faces a trying situation in the South China Sea.
Several ASEAN countries have been locked in a tense exchange with China over the regime’s claims on the South China Sea which extend well beyond internationally accepted norms. China claims waters almost to the shorelines of Brunei, the Philippines, and other nations in the region.
International conventions grant nations an exclusive economic territorial claim to sea waters off their shores for 200 nautical miles.
Baird said he expected the issue to be discussed later that day.
“We want to see the issue dealt with in accordance with international law, and obviously for the parties themselves, to work amicably and peacefully to resolve their differences,” he said.
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