Thank you very much. I'm very happy to be here at the Parliament of Canada.
As someone who has been concerned about Canada-China relations for many years, I am particularly happy to see the China question being reviewed by Parliament, which is, of course, the most authoritative institution in our political system. So I have high expectations of you, and I hope my statement will be helpful to you.
I was asked by the clerk of the committee to make a statement addressing the current situation with regard to Tibet and the Olympics, and human rights in China in general, and then to provide some background to the report I was commissioned by DFAIT to write, assessing Canada's bilateral human rights dialogue with China in 2005. This report was a central focus of your international human rights subcommittee's study between October 2006 and May 2007, as Mr. Sorenson pointed out.
As for my background in this area, while a professor at Brock University I was borrowed by the then Department of External Affairs when Mr. Chan was secretary of state, and then by the subsequent Department of Foreign Affairs to serve in the Canadian embassy in Beijing on two postings, as the post's sinologist in the political section, because I was educated in China, am fluent in the language, and have a certain amount of knowledge about that place that, I think, one might say is lacking in the government in some ways.
Now, with regard to the Chinese government's claims about the current unrest in China's Tibet Autonomous Region and in the Tibetan regions of China's Qinghai, Gansu, and Hunan provinces, they maintain in their official propaganda that the unrest is not due to Tibetan dissatisfaction with their conditions, but to western intelligence agencies and western media, in cahoots with the Dalai Lama, instigating ethnic Tibetans to revolt with a view to spoiling the 2008 Beijing Olympics, thereby causing Chinese national loss of face and thereby inhibiting China's rise to great power status.
As one can see from the demonstrations by Canadians of Chinese origin and Chinese exchange students here in Canada, I would say that many of the Han Chinese I know are individually very angry with westerners in general, because they believe the official line. There is a demonization of the west currently in China, which I think serves the Chinese Communist Party admirably in uniting the Chinese people behind the party on the basis of a nationalistic claim that the party is defending China against the onslaught of a hostile west. Because of this demonization and because the situation has led to this polarization between the views of Chinese citizens, which are typically quite nationalistic, and westerners who are concerned about the human rights of Tibetans in Tibet, it sets back the possibility of engaging the Chinese on human rights after the Olympics, because this kind of narrative suggests that western human rights engagement with China is a means to do anti-China things, to stimulate the split of the motherland.
So I think the Chinese Communist Party and the existing regime have been able to manipulate the situation in their favour, in a way that one could say is hostile to our desire to see the rule of law, democracy, and human rights become a reality for the citizens of China.
Now, we don't agree with this Chinese narrative. Canada has called for China to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama, and I think most of us would agree that the current unrest in Tibet is attributable to a failure of the Chinese government and their policies towards Tibet, because the Chinese government has had policies that systematically suppress the rights of Tibetans to use their language, that interfere with their right to freely practise their religion, and that interfere with their right to a distinct culture and a distinct society. The Chinese government, by limiting education in Tibet and by limiting the number of Tibetans who can enter monasteries, wants to reduce the great civilization of the Tibetan people, their historical and religious tradition, to a kind of folkloric status.
So the Chinese official line is that the wonderfully rich tradition of Tibetans is backward and superstitious. I've heard Chinese people refer to the Dalai Lama as “a dirty monk”.
Like all of China's 55 officially recognized minority nationalities, Tibetans are expected to play the role of a simple and happy people--happy to be Chinese who love to sing and dance. Their future is to become modern and enter into the Chinese mainstream, study Mandarin Chinese, which is more and more the language of education in the Tibetan regions, and to serve the Han Chinese-led comprehensive rise to power as modern-minded Mandarin speakers.
I would point out, as an aside, that Chinese Tibetans are scheduled to be singing and dancing at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I don't think most Canadians want their political leaders to share in a celebratory activity, which the opening ceremony is. It's about celebrating China's rise to power and China's arrival as a great nation in the world. It's not really about the sports. And there is no tradition, to my knowledge, of political leaders attending the opening ceremonies of Olympics.
I would say with regard to our urging the Chinese Communists to meet with the Dalai Lama, I very much doubt that any meeting of this nature will take place. Just by meeting with the Dalai Lama, the Chinese would be according recognition to and affirmation of a Tibetan identity outside of the Chinese Communist Party's control, a Tibetan identity that is not Chinese because they live in India. So I don't think this is going to happen, and I believe the Chinese government's claims that their door is open for the Dalai Lama to meet with the Beijing authorities should not be taken at face value.
Similarly, the upcoming Olympics has led to a Chinese crackdown on human rights defenders in China. The Chinese government is doing its utmost to try to keep the ugly side of their rule, the ugly realities, away from the eyes of the world. But I very much doubt that when the Olympics come in August the Chinese authorities will be successful in doing that.
Frankly, I very much regret that these Olympics are turning out to be the opposite of what was intended in terms of China's arrival as a responsible world citizen. I really wish, more than ever, that Toronto had won those Olympics—we came pretty close.
Now, where does Canada come into all of this? Our government's method of engaging the Chinese authorities on human rights through a dialogue process began 10 years ago. In April 1997, our foreign minister at the time, Lloyd Axworthy, had meetings with the Chinese foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, and the premier of the state council of China, Li Peng, and was told that if Canada wanted to continue the present good relations, it should not stay behind France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, which had decided not to sponsor the resolution at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March 1998 to call China to task over human rights.
So Mr. Axworthy decided to stop the confrontation, as he put it, by having bilateral dialogues, which he described as something like our dialogue with Cuba, and that's where it began. We held nine bilateral dialogues between July 1997 and November 2005.
In 2005, DFAIT characterized the dialogues like this. It said:
||...the Dialogue has been used as an instrument for Canada and China to engage on human rights; a forum to share views and experience on policies and practices with respect to human rights; an avenue for both countries to express their views/concerns on each other's human rights situation and remind each other of our international obligations.
This activity was supposed to be a confidential dialogue to ensure frankness, so the contents of the dialogue were never made public but kept in internal reporting. So the press and the NGOs concerned about China's human rights situation were never given any transparent or detailed accounting of what the substance of these dialogues was.
In some ways, a minister could get up in the House of Commons when a question was asked about human rights in China and refer to the dialogue and say that these issues were raised in a confidential way, but he couldn't give you specifics. So it became a useful tool for addressing human rights concerns.
Also, one could not really see this as a dialogue. There was no consideration, I think, on the Canadian side that we had anything to learn from China about human rights. In other words, we hoped that the Chinese National People's Congress would learn about how a democratic parliament functioned; that was our anticipation. None of us seriously expected that any of the information from the Chinese side in the dialogue process would feed into any of our policy. The National People's Congress only meets two weeks a year; it's not something that the Canadian Parliament would likely adopt. So it's not an equal dialogue of equal exchange; it's a dialogue of us trying to show the Chinese our system, hoping that when they understood our system, they would say, this is the best system and we should adopt it.
But 10 years later, we're hard-pressed to find any objective results from the Canadian government's substantial investment of time and resources in this activity. We can't come up with any verifiable indicators of any benefit to people in China that has served the Canadian national interest in any way through 10 years of these dialogues.
Essentially, I think what was wrong was the design of the dialogue. Our dialogue counterpart was the international organizations department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The international organizations department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a mandate to defend China's interests abroad, but the Chinese foreign ministry has no mandate to promote social justice, the rule of law, and human rights domestically in China. So we were talking to people who did not have policy-making functions on the relevant issues, but simply the function of trying to deflect the human rights concerns of the west about China. So they had no institutional interest in promoting respect for human rights domestically.
There's no evidence that any of our dialogue or discussions on these matters was reported beyond the international organizations department of the MFA. When I went and met with different Chinese ministries, like the Ministry of Propaganda of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, the Chinese Ministry of Justice, the Chinese Bureau of Prison Administration, the Chinese police, and so on, and the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, they had not received information about the dialogues beyond their participants who were there. The senior policy-makers at the higher levels of the Chinese Communist Party, who have decision-making authority over such matters, have evidently had no involvement with the human rights dialogues to date.
When I met with the people in the Chinese government and the Communist Party who were involved in the dialogues, they told me this. First of all, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not consult with them about what agenda items would be useful to them in their ongoing work. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs simply advises these ministries, like the Ministry of Justice or the police or the Ministry of Health, about AIDS and so on. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would advise them of the topics and ask them to research the Canadian situation in these areas and prepare questions and observations about Canadian human rights shortcomings, so they would have a chance to talk.
Much of the dialogue—and this is the other thing they told me, and which I personally observed, as I've probably attended more of these dialogues than any other Canadian—is taken up by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs' people reading scripts prepared for them by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, whose content was well known to all of us and of very little interest. So a lot of the time in the dialogue was taken up by their talking about things we already knew. The topics of discussion tended to repeat the issues already raised, such as the UN covenants, which came up time and time again, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Chinese generally found the Canadian presentations and discussions to be too shallow to be of substantive benefit. For example, in the 2005 dialogue, which I attended in Ottawa, the RCMP played a PowerPoint presentation that they use for new RCMP recruits on the topic of the appropriate use of violence. The senior members of the Chinese Ministry of Justice and the Chinese police—not to speak of the representative of the All-China Women's Federation— I don't think found the presentation to be of any value to them, frankly.
Also, the dialogues only involve a small number of Chinese people, and there's no mechanism to spread the information beyond this small group.
And Canada only provided information in English and French; we didn't provide anything in a language the Chinese could read.
Since the late 1990s, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has engaged in annual government-to-government bilateral human dialogues with at least 11 western nations, as well as with the EU and Japan. The purpose is to allow western governments to engage in quiet diplomacy with a view to encouraging the Chinese regime to come into compliance with UN-determined human rights and norms. They've had more than 200 of these dialogues, with largely the same Chinese cast of characters attending substantial numbers of them. There's no evidence that they've had any significant impact on any Chinese governments, agencies, policies, or practices, and in fact the Chinese say explicitly that Chinese citizens already enjoy the full protection of human rights. Mr. Yang Jiechi said that to Condoleezza Rice just last month. So they don't feel that they need to know things.
In the meantime, there are significant issues of concern to us. Freedom of association is a big one. The NGO sector is very limited in China. They don't have independent political parties. The migrant workers have no protection of workers' associations. There is no free press. There is no independent and impartial judiciary.
This does lead to problems such as the Lai Changxing case, where a Chinese gentleman who is accused of evading $19.8 billion U.S. in customs duty through a massive smuggling operation is currently living comfortably in Vancouver, associating with suspected members of a Chinese triad called the Big Circle Boys and able to purchase new automobiles. We have no means of returning him to China to be accountable for any crimes he may have committed there because the rules of evidence in Canada and China are not the same. Foreign nationals enjoy the protection of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Due to the incompatibility of our systems, Chinese criminals can come here and they're home free.
Finally, I would say that the current Australian Prime Minister is a fluent speaker of Mandarin, a trend that I hope to encourage in Prime Ministers. He made a speech at Beijing University, where he talked about the nature of friendship in the Mandarin language. He is not a Conservative Prime Minister, but I think policy with China transcends partisan concerns.
He says that in China friendship in some ways contains a sort of emotional blackmail: to be a friend with Chinese you should hold your tongue and be polite. When things are going on that you disagree with, you should say nothing publicly, but you do have the possibility of a small cautionary word in private, which is readily ignored by your Chinese friend. Mr. Rudd said, “A strong relationship, and a true friendship, are built on the ability to engage in direct, frank, and ongoing dialogue about our fundamental interests and future visions.”
So I feel that Canada gains more respect in China by being open and honest in our interaction with the Chinese government. Of course we should be respectful. Of course we should listen to them with due consideration. But if we are silent when we hear reports of human rights abuses, this can be misinterpreted by our Chinese friends as tacit complicity in these Chinese policies and practices that many Canadians find deeply disturbing. I think that even in diplomacy, honesty is the best policy.
First of all, I would like to correct my friend on the other side. We are not here to beat on China; we are here to discuss how best we can work there in China. We do have concerns with China, about human rights in reference to its treatment of its minorities, whether there are 53 or not.
About this question of whether they're Chinese or not, it is for the Chinese people and the government to decide how they want to treat their minorities. It's not for Canada to decide that. It's like we have the French Canadians over here and how we treat our minorities. So saying this would be a little bit going off track.
You're absolutely right that the manifestation of what is happening with the Tibetan protest and everything else is just one of the internal affairs of what is happening in China and how they're treating it. My friend over there was secretary of state for many years, doing this dialogue, which is what he does, and I agreed with him when he said there were a lot of human rights issues that we need to address. And that's what we are talking about here.
Nobody is talking about China's economic strength. Nobody is talking about China having done remarkably well and taken its people out.... It's an emerging economy that everybody is engaged in. But we cannot close our eyes to other Canadian values that we hold very strongly. This manifestation of this Tibetan protest is about how China is treating itself. If they did it more....
You have rightly pointed out about human rights, frankly speaking, that it has failed during the regime of this government. The reason it has failed is that we have taken a soft approach. At a given time, I was with Prime Minister Martin in China. I think you were there with me too. The Chinese were just totally blank, and said, “Don't talk about human rights here, period.”
The question I have is, what changes in society will occur in China in reference to a very vibrant Chinese community living in Taiwan, with the same language and everything, which is absolutely free with a tremendous amount of cultural freedom and religious freedom and which is a 1,000-year-old Chinese civilization? You can see that happening in Taiwan. You can see it happening in Hong Kong, if you want to go to Hong Kong.
Then you jump over to Beijing, and boom, everything is controlled. Yet there are these two countries, whether you want to call them countries, territories, or whatever—eventually it'll be decided. Its influence of that society and to a major degree influence by Chinese Canadians out here....
How much more quickly can this work on the current Chinese system out here to enable those changes to take place within China? We can stand outside, as we've done and as I think you've rightly said, but within China, how quickly can the change occur? How quickly would the big war around Tiananmen Square, or whatever...? How quickly can that be done, considering it's an emerging market? What's your view on that?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First of all, I will say that I started my political career as a human rights activist. It feels difficult to be defending the Chinese government on their human rights record, and I don't want to. But at the same time, with the approach we've been taking.... I was Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) from 1993 to 2000--that's seven years--and the Liberal government continued governing until 2006. In all of those years, I think the engagement approach that we had on human rights and on all the different fronts with China has been very productive. I would say that, yes, there continue to be a lot of human rights problems, political problems, corruption problems, social disparity problems that we have to help them with, that we have to work with them to overcome. At the same time, I think that if we move away from the engagement approach that we've been taking, it will be a wrong decision.
In 1991 I risked my life and led an international delegation to China. I sneaked in there. I was detained for five hours and I was asked to leave. After I came back from China, I decided that the problem of human rights in China is not only a problem with the government. Replacing that government, replacing that leadership, would not bring human rights and would not bring democracy to China. We have to start from the grassroots. We have to start with the people. This is why engagement works.
During the 12 or 13 years of the Liberal regime, yes, we did not use human rights as a political showcase, but every time I had a bilateral meeting with China, I raised human rights. When I came out of those meetings and went into press conferences, I talked about human rights. I'm the first minister from a western democracy who ever visited Tibet, and I met with the dissident lamas in Tibet. At the same time, we raised those issues all the time. I just want to put that record straight.
The other thing is that with those kinds of dialogues between the two countries, we support a lot of NGOs locally, and the universities, to work with China, and it's the work of our legal experts with the judicial administration in China that has been able to convince the Government of China to implement the presumption of innocence in the legal system. It's a major change in their approach of dealing with judicial reform.
Also, if you go to China now, on the TV there will be a lot of government programs to educate civilians about their rights, and how not to go with Kwan Si to resolve a case. Also, on the radio, there are phone lines people can call to complain to local officials about what went wrong.
Jonathan Manthorpe, who is the Asia-Pacific reporter for the Vancouver Sun, recently, just two weeks ago, wrote an article about the more than 130,000 NGOs, civic societies, that are now operating inside China. Those 130,000 civic societies have a lot of impact on the lives of the citizens inside China.
He cited one big example of how, in Fujian province, they were to build a chemical plant close to an urban centre; and how the citizens of that city used the telephone for short messages and were able to amass over 110,000 people to walk on the bank of the river in the form of a protest; and how the representatives in the people's congress and in the people's consultative assembly from that city were able to make the government change their decision. Now they will try to build the plant somewhere else. Now the people in that new location are trying to do the same thing.
What I'm trying to say, Mr. Chairman, is that the engagement is working. There are still a lot of challenges in China, but we should not turn our back on the very successful approach that we are conducting right now.
With regard to the Celil case, I wouldn't want to second-guess.... But when I was in Beijing working with the central committee party school, I took advantage of my time to go to the international liaison department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which is an important foreign policy institution in China. They said that they were very happy to see me, and that they were surprised no one from the Canadian embassy had been to see them for some years. I think Mr. Gordon Houlden has met with them subsequently. We should have contact with these kinds of places, because this is where real policy and real power lies.
With regard to the religion question, they have a state administration for religious affairs that periodically comes to meet with their Canadian counterparts. Well, what is the Canadian counterpart for the state administration for religious affairs? We don't have one, because the government is not deciding what a legitimate religion is or what a cult is and so on.
In general with regard to this question, the Protestant Church is increasing exponentially in China, with over one million new converts a year. More people attend religious services in China on any given Sunday morning than in all of Europe. It has been progressing well. You have to register your religion in China, and the party is bringing more diverse forms of worship into the legal religions. I think the Chinese are coming around to the idea that believers in religion make good citizens, and I think they're less and less repressive of religious beliefs.
That is the situation with Protestants. There are problems with the Catholics, because the Chinese government refuses to acknowledge the role of the Pope. They want God to deal directly with someone inside the boundaries of the People's Republic of China as opposed to the Vatican. That means that most of the Catholics in China are illegal. It varies from time to time and place to place, but people are still able to worship and make their spiritual connection with their Creator.
The situation for the Uighurs is desperate. It's similar to that of the Tibetans. The Chinese government doesn't want to acknowledge that these people have a distinctive language, culture, and history. They speak a language that is intelligible to modern Turkish, and the Chinese government is concerned that in their religious practices in the mosques they're also engaging in the creation of a separate identity. So they have a lot to be concerned about.
Of course we're going to try our best in the Human Rights Council in 2009. It's a new institution. It is as yet untested. We're not sure how it's going to go. In the meantime, I think we have to try to shed light on the situation in China.
The Chinese government is amenable to exposure of wrongdoing. A few years ago when the CTV crew passed a Shanghai police station by coincidence and observed the torture of a prisoner--a prisoner being beaten up and manacled to a window frame--the Chinese government felt ashamed about this. They never say they think torture is okay, that it has served their tradition well for generations, that it's a cultural thing, and so on. They know that there are certain human bottom lines. And in terms of the freedom of religion, I think it's the same.
I think it's incumbent on Canada to not let these things go unanswered. When we become aware of situations, we should speak to our Chinese friends and say, “We've heard about this and we don't think it's right. Don't you think you should be considering doing things differently?” We hope they would agree with us. Why Amnesty International and letters to the Chinese president urging the release of somebody seem to have an impact is a mystery to me, but evidently even the senior leaders of the Chinese Communist Party have some consideration about what Canadians in Saskatoon or Moose Jaw or Grande Prairie think about how they're treating their people. And they do respond.
I do think that shedding some light on these things in a bilateral relationship is a healthy thing. Then we can operate with more authority, in concert with other countries in the UN, to do the same thing.