OTTAWA—Parliament Hill was swept by snowflakes Tuesday as several hundred Falun Gong practitioners held a mass meditation and urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to raise their plight on his upcoming trade trip to China.
The PM heads for Beijing next week in an effort to get oil-sands crude to market in China, despite opposition to a pipeline critical to that plan. Meanwhile, China’s communist regime faces its own problems including growing unrest at home and questions about its stability.
The tension between trade with China and calling the regime out for its abuses has been a problem for successive Canadian governments.
Tory MP Garry Breitkreuz said MPs face a “huge challenge” in balancing the lure of China’s market with concerns about human rights. The China business lobby also remains a powerful force on Parliament Hill, he said.
“It’s difficult to weigh these things and balance some of the competing interests but it’s our obligation to do that,” he said after voicing his support in a speech at the rally on Tuesday.
“Some of the most serious atrocities are happening in China at the present time, and I think we have an obligation to speak up.”
Rob Anders, another Conservative MP and an outspoken proponent of human rights in China, said there are too many people being imprisoned and tortured behind the “bamboo curtain.”
But beyond that, he said China is the linchpin to freedom in the entire region, where Burma, Vietnam, and North Korea are still under authoritarian regimes, while Maoist rebels destabilize Nepal and China buys up the Mongolian economy.
Anders, who braved the snow to lend his support to the group, said he hoped the delegation to China remembers the importance of human rights.
“I don’t believe for a second, that just because we call attention to the human rights abuses, that China will not buy our wheat or our oil or whatever,” he said.
“China is a big country, they know what they are up to, they know they are committing human rights abuses. They still have to feed people and they still have to buy oil.”
Tory MP Stephen Woodworth and Green Party leader Elizabeth May also came out to encourage the meditators.
Chinese State-Owned Business Lobby
While MPs spoke outside Parliament, former MP and Secretary of State for Asia Pacific David Kilgour told reporters at a press conference inside that Canada should tread lightly in its dealings with China.
“I have absolutely no problem selling oil or anything else to China,” he said.
But selling production plants in Canada to Chinese state-owned companies with terrible environmental records and histories of playing political roles in the countries they operate in is another matter entirely, he said.
“I think we would rue the day that we ever sold our ownership of our oil plants to the Chinese government companies,” he said.
It’s a warning echoed by Terry Glavin, a journalist and blogger who recently published an article on the topic in the Ottawa Citizen.
Glavin questions the Tories’ push for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project and the relationship of that to the Chinese state-owned oil companies involved.
On his blog, he describes Sinopec Group as “the seventh-largest corporation on Earth and the absurdly corrupt and ravenous behemoth that is the main money, so far, behind the $6 billion Enbridge Inc. plan to punch a pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to the B.C. coast at Kitimat.”
“Just how Sinopec became co-author of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s new foreign policy and energy strategy isn’t a question any of us are supposed to be asking,” he writes.
But if doing business with China means getting entwined with its ruling Communist Party, it’s important that the government still draw a clear line, said Zhang Tianxiao at the press conference Tuesday.
Zhang’s sister, Zhang Yunhe, disappeared in China in 2002 after being arrested for practicing Falun Gong. Zhang worries she has been a victim of organ harvesting. Zhang’s brother-in-law is among the confirmed 3,400 dead, persecuted to death by the regime for refusing to renounce his belief in Falun Gong.
Zhang said she doesn’t give much thought to the Canada-China trade relationship.
“It is kind of beyond what I am thinking about because I am not really familiar with that area. But I think that there is only one principle about trade, it is just that Canada should never sacrifice human rights and moral principles for any material benefit.”
He Lizhi, who was imprisoned and tortured in China for practicing Falun Gong and whose brother is still imprisoned there for the same reason, said Canada’s leaders must never forget that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is not China, and there are 1.3 billion Chinese people who will remain when the Party is gone.
On Thursday, a coalition of groups will hold another press conference on Parliament Hill and another rally outside. Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs and democracy groups will participate.
While groups protest outside China, others protest inside. U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke told NPR’s Steve Inskeep in a recent interview that the situation in China is “very, very delicate” and that he was aware of growing incidents of public demonstrations.
“I do believe that there is a power of the people, and there is a growing frustration among the people over the operations of government, corruption, lack of transparency, and issues that affect the Chinese people on a daily basis that they feel are being neglected,” said Locke.
Harper leaves for China Feb. 6.