OTTAWA—The Harper government’s efforts to secure an investment deal with China appear to be taking place amidst a renewed push by China’s current leader to crack down on internal calls for the rule of law and basic human rights.
Foreign affairs minister John Baird has long pledged that Canada emphasizes both human rights and trade in its relationship with China, which could make a concerted effort by the Chinese regime to squash any reforms in those regards difficult for Canada to ignore.
Reports are emerging that Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has made a sharp left turn toward hardline Maoist policies.
A recent directive The New York Times attributes to Xi warns the regime could lose its grip on power if it does not suffocate seven subversive trends, including support for Western constitutional democracy, universal values of human rights, and media independence.
Xi’s move to quell discussion on ideas such as enforcing China’s constitution or judicial independence come as economists warn of structural problems in the Chinese economy that could impact GDP.
Xi’s fears of major upheaval could be well-founded. Public unrest in the world’s most populous country has become so prevalent that U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke said the situation was “very, very delicate” in an NPR interview last January.
That situation has compelled the regime to ramp up domestic security spending, which has outstripped military spending for the past three years. Reuters reported in March that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) budget would rise to 740.6 billion yuan (C$126.8 billion) while 769.1 billion yuan (C$131.7 billion) would go to domestic security to address issues like popular unrest over corruption and abuse of power.
Xi’s turn toward Maoism has been kept relatively quiet, but the Times has seen and verified a copy of the directive now being studied by cadres across China that comes as state-controlled media denounce constitutionalism and civil society.
If Xi does crack down on advocates for reform, he could expose what critics of the regime have long contended—that human rights gains and rule-of-law reforms were skin deep and little more than show.
If that show is cancelled, Baird could be forced to more directly deal with the abuses of the Chinese regime.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been a vocal defender of exactly the kinds of values and ideas Xi hopes to quash, frequently touting rule of law and democracy in speeches within Canada and beyond.
Compared to other world leaders, Harper has said relatively more about the abuses of the Chinese regime and even made vague comments about human rights while in China in 2012. But when not speaking directly in relation to China, Harper’s views on those matters have been explicit.
Also in 2012, but in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Harper said: “All governments, without exception, must guarantee their citizens good governance, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.”
FIPA Legal Challenge
To date, neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the newly retitled Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada has been willing to answer questions related to China’s authoritarian government, internal problems including corruption, or escalating social unrest.
In an odd and ironic twist, the one thing holding Canada back from ratifying an investment deal with China (the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement) seems to be a legal challenge filed by a small First Nations band on Vancouver Island.
Hupacasath is a small First Nation of 280 members on Vancouver Island in B.C., an area not covered by treaties. Part of the reason it is concerned about a trade treaty with China is for lack of its own treaty with Canada, said Brenda Sayers, a former band councillor. Sayers is responsible for a legal challenge the band has brought against the federal government for not being consulted over implications the FIPA treaty could have on its aboriginal rights and titles.
While Foreign Affairs would not confirm that the Hupacasath legal challenge is the reason why the FIPA has not been ratified, sources from the band have said the government would not finalize the treaty until the case was settled.
Sayers said that for the Hupacasath, the matter has little to do with China.
“Our beef is with the federal government. They failed to consult us,” she said.
The constitution obligates the federal government to consult with First Nations about matters that could affect them, she said.
And because China is a growing economic powerhouse with an appetite for Canadian resources and money to pay for them, the FIPA could have a direct impact on First Nation land claims and traditional territory.
“They have the power and the ability to purchase resource-based companies in Canada that may affect our aboriginal rights and title,” she said.
Sayers and other critics of the FIPA worry that state investor provisions could see Canada lose billions in legal challenges made by Chinese state-owned companies in a process outside the courts and possibly secret from public oversight.
Working with Leadnow.ca, the Hupacasath is fundraising for an inevitable appeal of a pending federal court decision of whether the government erred in signing the FIPA without consulting First Nations. If the Hupacasath win, the feds will almost certainly appeal, while the Hupacasath are preparing to appeal if they lose.
That appeal will hinge on how successful their fundraising effort is. The current court challenge cost around $165,000, almost all of which was fundraised, and an appeal is expected to cost the same.
“Hupacasath First Nation also took the province [of B.C.] to court for removing one-third of our traditional territory that was sold and converted to private land to a logging company,” said Sayers, adding that the case took 10 years to win and settle.
“We are still paying off the debt for the legal fees and cannot afford to take on any further debt.”