In a move sure to ease criticism of Ottawa's cooling relations with Beijing, Canadian International Trade Minister David Emerson and Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay are planning to travel to China in the New Year, a Foreign Affairs and International Trade spokesperson has confirmed.
"I hope to make some headway on a variety of trade issues, such as Approved Destination Status (ADS)," Emerson commented in a speech in Vancouver last Friday.
After over a year of positive negotiations, talks over ADS ground to a halt in recent months when Beijing reportedly became unresponsive to Canada's negotiation attempts.
The ADS is a system devised by Chinese authorities in 1995 that controls where Chinese tour groups may travel. Beijing forbids travel to non-ADS-approved countries, such as Canada, except for purposes of business, study, or visiting friends or relatives.
"Without ADS, travel agencies cannot promote or sell leisure tours directly to Chinese consumers," explained Derek Galpin, the Canadian Tourism Commission managing director in Beijing.
ADS could bring an estimated 700,000 Chinese tourists to Canada annually. The CTC had been seeking ADS for Canada since 1999.
Negotiations on Ice
Ottawa and Beijing began ADS negotiations in January 2005. Finalizing the agreement was expected to take approximately a year.
A year and 9 months later, however, the negotiations remain on hold, although more than 80 other countries now have ADS. Ottawa has attempted to get the dialogue going again, but to no avail. Some believe Beijing may have suspended talks due on account of the new government's tough human rights talk.
Earlier on in the negotiation process, Beijing had reportedly expressed concern that granting ADS to Canada would result in large numbers of political refugee seekers fleeing to Canada. The Chinese also suggested in 2005 that the continued presence of accused smuggler Lai Chengxing in Canada was an obstacle to granting ADS. Chinese authorities have been attempting to get Lai extradited to China to stand trial, but he fears he will face torture or death if returned to his home country.
Immediately before Chinese President Hu Jintao's last visit to Canada in September, 2005, Lai was slated for deportation after an unusually speedy appeals process. Today, however, he remains in Canada.
"Two dominant reasons have curbed the ADS negotiation," suggested Clive Ansley, a Vancouver-based human rights lawyer and expert on China's legal system. "One reason is that [alleged smuggler] Lai Changxing is not extradited to China; the other is the Falun Gong practitioners' protest in front of Vancouver Chinese consulate."
Falun Gong adherents have maintained a 24-hour vigil outside the Chinese consulate in Vancouver since 2001. The Chinese consulate in Vancouver has attempted unsuccessfully to get the Canadian government and city of Vancouver to remove Falun Gong's prominent wall of posters and photographs on Granville street, which depict the Chinese regime's torture and abuse of Falun Gong followers.
Statements made by Emerson last Friday in Vancouver seem to confirm Ansley's suspicion that Falun Gong may have become a stumbling block to Canada securing ADS.
"The Chinese are working hard. But they need to understand Canada," he told reporters, noting that there have been "issues" with Falun Gong protests.
A few weeks before Chinese president Hu Jintao's visit last year, Canada deported a Falun Gong adherent for the first time back to China. Hu Xiaoping, who had previously been incarcerated in a Chinese labour camp, was returned to China in August 2005. She disappeared upon her arrival in China. At the time of Hu Jintao's meeting with Paul Martin, two more Falun Gong adherents had been slated for deportation, prompting some observers to wonder whether Canada was trading human rights for tourism dollars.
The Conservative government has set a different toneógranting honorary citizenship to the Dalai Lama and voicing concern over Chinese espionage in Canada, for example.
"The CCP has been bullying the governments who would do what it says," Ansley commented. "The Conservative government has not hesitated to speak up and criticize China's notorious human rights so far."
Tourism Growth Not Waiting for ADS
"Despite the absence of ADS, the number of Chinese visitors to Canada has shown strong growth, reaching over 1.1 million visitors in 2005, compared with approximately 954,000 in 2004," says Foreign Affairs and International Trade spokesperson Anne Marie Parent.
The CTC's Galpin agrees: "There is a 25 percent increase in the number of Chinese visitors from 2005 to June 2006."
Meanwhile, family ties, education needs, and increased trade will help sustain the steady growth of Chinese visits to Canada, noted a bulletin by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APFC), a Vancouver-based think tank.
And, although no Chinese tour groups are permitted, "individual Chinese tourists can visit Canada," says Parent.