Former Chinese Ambassador to Canada Describes Efforts to Influence Conservatives’ Stance on China
Former Chinese Ambassador to Canada Describes Efforts to Influence Conservatives’ Stance on China
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not been afraid to voice human rights concerns with the Chinese regime in the past. (Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not been afraid to voice human rights concerns with the Chinese regime in the past. (Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

TORONTO—On the eve of Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi’s visit to Canada, one former Chinese ambassador addressed a gathering at the Chinese consulate in Toronto to describe his behind-the-scenes work to influence the Conservative government’s stance on China, according to a report in a Chinese-language newspaper.

Former ambassador Mei Ping spoke Wednesday evening ahead of the arrival of Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi, who landed yesterday and will meet with Canadian officials and business representatives today and tomorrow in Ottawa.

Reached Friday by The Epoch Times, a spokesperson with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade could only say that Cannon would hold a bilateral meeting with Yang.

According to a report in Ming Pao, a pro-Beijing Chinese-language newspaper, the communist regime turned to Mei to influence the Canadian government’s stance on China because of his extensive ties in Canada. 

Mei said he visited Canada in September and October of last year on a mission to use a “secondary channel” of diplomacy to change the government’s view. 

Mr. Harper took a more hard-line stance on human rights abuses in China by raising such concerns publicly, something previous prime ministers had been reluctant to do, instead relegating human rights talk to closed-door dialogues.

The stance ruffled feathers in the communist regime. But Harper described it as the principled stance Canadians expect from their government.

“I think Canadians want us to promote our trade relations worldwide, and we do that, but I don’t think Canadians want us to sell out important Canadian values—our belief in democracy, freedom, human rights,” Harper told journalists in November 2006. “They don’t want us to sell that out to the almighty dollar.”

The regime hoped Mei would help turn the tide.

Mr. Mei was the ambassador to Canada from 1998 to 2005. Since leaving he was made head of the China National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation, as well as being assigned a post in foreign affairs bureau of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an organization under the regime’s United Front, whose goal is to advance the communist party’s views abroad.

In his talk, Mei listed what he described as the causes of the icy relations between Ottawa and the Chinese regime, including that “Harper and his team have been in the opposition for too long so they aren’t familiar with governing,” according to the Ming Pao report. 

Mei also accused the Harper conservatives of being preoccupied with domestic issues rather than foreign affairs, of favouring the U.S. and France in diplomatic relations, and of “having a tough attitude” on human rights and Tibet, according to the Ming Pao report.

Mei said he took this message on a cross-Canada tour that included stops in eight cities where he met with business leaders, think-tanks, opposition leaders, and media.

His message seems to have resonated with some groups. The Epoch Times attended a forum about China’s rising influence in the world held in Waterloo by the Centre for International Governance Innovation. Human rights was scarcely mentioned and when it was it was often in the context of criticizing those who talked bout China’s poor right’s record. 

Another event in Montreal organized by the Canadian International Council was closed to the media. According to one attendee at that event, Mei not only touted business prospects in China, but took aim at Tibetans and Falun Gong, groups that the regime has been critcized for persecuting.

The regime has also found a sympathetic ear for its position in the Canada-China Business Council, a business lobby that shares at least one executive with the CIC, and is seen as promoting trade over human rights.

The organization announced in a note to members last week that they had been asked by the Chinese authorities to arrange a luncheon for the ambassador with Canadian officials and business delegates on Tuesday.

The Conservatives upset the Chinese when they cancelled the bilateral human-rights dialogue, which had long been criticized by human-rights groups as ineffective. Harper appears to have taken heed from a report produced by Canadian academic Charles Burton.

“Because the dialogue process is not transparent and supposed to be secret, we can’t point to anything positive that came out of the previous dialogue,” Mr. Burton told Embassy Magazine in May. “It tended to fulfil the Chinese government’s mandate of deflecting the criticism of the practices of the government and fulfill the Canadian government’s mandate of protecting the rights and freedoms of the people of China.”

According to Burton, the cancellation of the dialogue may be a concern for Beijing.

“This could be causing tension with the Government of China as other nations may follow Canada’s lead and refuse to participate in this format of engagement with the Chinese authorities on human rights,” he said in a recent blog post. “This would be on the basis that after more than 10 years of dialoguing this format of engagement has proven to be ineffective in promoting social justice in China.”

In recent months, the Tories have appeared less adamant about raising human rights. Recent trips by both Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and International Trade Minister Stockwell Day to China have focused largely on trade.

Mei said, according to the Ming Pao report, that change in the Conservative stance has come amid the recession, as the Tories don’t want to appear to be harming trade ties amid a global downturn.

As for Yang’s visit, the government appears to wish to keep it relatively low-key. The Epoch Times contacted Foreign Affairs Friday morning to ask about the visit, which had already been confirmed in Chinese media and on the Chinese regime’s website a day earlier. A spokesperson could not say why the government had not yet confirmed the visit to Canadian media, but a release was sent out at 4:07 p.m. Friday, as parliament was preparing to close for the summer recess.

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