Speaking from Shanghai as he wraps up his trip to China, Canadian foreign affairs minister John Baird said Wednesday that a history of human rights atrocities shouldn’t affect Canada’s forming stronger ties with the Chinese regime, whom he has referred to as a “strategic partner” and “ally” on his trip.
Baird has repeatedly pledged he is equally committed to furthering trade in China while projecting Canadian values like the rule of law.
He defended himself against suggestions that his public comments downplay human rights issues by referencing Canada’s other trading partners.
“You say millions have been killed by the regime. Obviously other countries that we work well with like Russia and Germany have been through challenges in their history, but we now count them as allies. Obviously we have substantial disagreements on some files with our counterparts, and we have taken the opportunity during this visit to raise those.”
Baird did not mention that Germany is no longer run by Nazis and is now a liberal democracy, nor that Russia—while no beacon of democratic progress—has transformed from its Soviet days and no longer imprisons untold numbers in Siberian gulags.
In China, however, hundreds of thousands remain imprisoned in labour camps. The photo of Mao continues to hang in Tiananmen Square, and those with religious or political views different from those of the regime often face a brutal response.
And while the previous Russian and German regimes that carried out genocidal campaigns have been replaced with democracies, China remains under the control of the same entity responsible for deaths estimated as high as 60 million.
—Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird
But Baird pledged repeatedly in comments to reporters before and during his trip that he had two equally important priorities in China: to pursue Canadian trade interests and project Canadian values like human rights.
Any substantial effort to project Canadian values has apparently been kept behind closed doors in private meetings with officials from the Chinese Communist Party, China’s de facto government and ruling regime.
Baird told reporters that he raised human rights concerns during his meetings with Chinese authorities, including the plight of Falun Gong and the case of Uyghur-Canadian Huseyin Celil who remains imprisoned in China.
Publicly, Baird’s trip centred on building personal relationships in China and encouraging deeper trade ties that could open doors for Canadian businesses seeking access to the Chinese market. He noted that just the 61,000 Chinese students who come to Canada annually bring a $1billion boost to the Canadian economy. They are also immersed in Canadian values “every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he noted.
Baird said that while he sees advancing Canadian values and business interests as equally important, neither need affect the other.
“I don’t think it’s a choice between one or the other. I think you can do both.”
“Canadian values on human rights are obviously somewhat different and on all issues are not aligned with those of the government where I am visiting,” he noted, referring to the Chinese regime.
“There will be honest differences of opinion.”
China remains one of the world’s most notorious human rights abusers and a focus country for Amnesty International. In its 2011 annual report on the country, Amnesty notes the Chinese regime is facing increasing unrest due to corruption, police abuses, and suppression of religious freedoms and other human rights.
“China increasingly threatened economic and political retaliation against countries that criticized its human rights record,” notes the report.