Stephen Harper's saving grace: Canada, China, trade, and human rights

"None who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free"

—Pearl S. Buck

During Prime Minister Stephen Harper's four-day trip to China last week he was hit with a non-stop barrage of sanctimonious scolding and chiding about how he has unwisely undermined Canada's relationship with China during his four years in power.

These public attacks came not just from the Chinese leadership and state-run media, but from the opposition parties back here in Canada as well, particularly the Liberals.

Now there's not much I respect about Stephen Harper, but his stand on China has been one issue where I believe he really deserves some genuine praise. While the rest of the western world has stumbled over itself to suck up to the People's Republic for trade and business purposes, Canada has retained a certain sense of dignity. Harper's refusal to kiss China's ass—when just about every other world leader has been doing nothing but—deserves some real respect in my books.

On just about every other issue, whether it be his shameful disregard for the environment or his abandonment of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr to torture and illegal imprisonment in America's Guantanamo Bay gulag, Harper has consistently shown himself to be one hell of a lousy prime minister. But not in this case.

The fact of the matter is when it comes to putting human rights above trade in this country's relations with China, Harper has truly taken an admirable stand these past few years: standing up to China, openly criticizing their horrendous human rights record, speaking up for the oppressed Tibetans. These are all worthy stands that every Canadian should be proud of.

Regardless of what some Canadians seem to believe, the sole purpose of a foreign policy is not simply to generate more trade.

Many of the same people who are outraged and disgusted by Harper's lack of concern about the treatment of Omar Khadr (as I myself have been) seem to have little or no concern themselves when it comes to the thousands of political prisoners wasting away in Chinese "re-education" camps. Or the many tortured and/or condemned to death for simply opposing the regime. Or the vast numbers of religiously oppressed. Or the prisoners used as unwilling organ donors. Sadly, none of these people seem to matter all that much to many Canadians.

Sure, lots of people in China are getting rich these days, but wealth creation doesn't legitimize horrendous human rights abuses. And millions of people in China are still living under constant oppression, particularly the Tibetans and the Turkic-speaking Uygers of Xinjiang province in the country's far west.

During the 10 months I spent in China earlier this decade I made a lot of good friends and I heard many horrific and heartbreaking tales of injustice and abuse, particularly from Tibetan and Uyger friends, but also from many Han Chinese as well.

But you don't need to have personally visited China to know about the Chinese government's human rights record. It's all very well documented.

Ignoble Ignatieff

The most ridiculous thing this past week has been watching Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff lecturing Harper for not showing China enough respect over the past few years. Isn't Ignatieff the same guy who supported the Iraq War because Iraq was a brutal dictatorship?

When it comes to hypocritical hysterics, it doesn't get much worse than this.

You get the feeling that Ignatieff and all these other business-before-all-else yahoos would be totally excited about close relations with North Korea and Burma too if they could only see a buck or two to be made there.

It would seem that to these people human rights are fine and all, but making some good dough is where it's really at.

Deafening Silence

Harper's insistence on speaking up on this issue has been especially noticeable—and heartening—due to the deafening silence from most other nations in recent years. It seems everyone is so consumed with trade and business opportunities that China's dismal human rights record has become almost irrelevant.

America, of course, is the most pathetically hypocritical of all when it comes to this whole issue, what with their constant condemnation and nearly 50-year embargo on Cuba and simultaneous newfound love of Communist China, as if it were some sort of bastion of civilized democracy and human rights, rather than the brutal dictatorship that it is.

Core Canadian Convictions

So, let me say it once again, no matter how much you may despise someone's politics or policies, it's only fair to applaud when they, no matter how infrequently, take the right path. And, like with George W. Bush's dramatic increase in foreign aid to Africa, largely to help fight HIV/AIDS, Harper deserves genuine praise for his non-ass kissing stance when it comes to China.

I mean, what do we believe in here in Canada anyway? Are we a nation that worships the almighty buck—or, in this case, the almighty yuan—or do we actually have some core Canadian values? We've already sold our souls, sold out our environment, and traded away our country's reputation to Alberta's oil sands in the name of "increased wealth and job creation above all else". Do we really want to trade in our belief in human rights as well?

I'm with Harper on this one. Both morally and ethically, the ass-kissers and soul sellers are on their own.

Mike Cowie is a freelance writer who writes about politics, music, film, travel, and much more. You can read more of Mike’s views on his Web site.

Comments (30) Add New Comment
carpediem
another piece of olds that shows the narrow Eurocentric and sinophobic perspective. Your ignorant complacency shows that you know nothing about the real reason behind China's rise and where the world is headed for. America rised because their innovation and liberty. China is rising because of their discipline and comradeship. The left and right might be opposite to each other, but human beings need both for progress to be sustainable. Notice that when you discuss China's human rights you clings to the cold cases and refuse to compare them with problem in your own country's present and history?
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mikey
" During Prime Minister Stephen Harper's four-day trip to China last week he was hit with a non-stop barrage of sanctimonious scolding"

"sanctimonious scolding"? Give me a break, lol. I'm sure Harper is secure enough to take jibes as good as he gives when he lectures China on just about everything?
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asgoda
Food on the table is one of the basic human rights. Narrow minded author suggested no need to visit China personally, but why not get out there experience the culture first hand.
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MikeCowie
asgoda says: "Narrow minded author suggested no need to visit China personally, but why not get out there experience the culture first hand."

If you actually read the piece you'll see that I did in fact spend 10 months in China earlier this decade.

And I agree, food on the table is indeed a basic human right, but what on earth does that have to do with authoritarian dictatorship? The cutthroat capitalism that exists in China today certainly doesn't need a Communist dictatorship to flourish.

The Chinese Communist Party is simply interested in retaining its position of power. It stands for self-preservation and little, if anything, else these days.
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Wang
UN Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO) announced that in China 58 million more people no longer hungry but India add 30 million more people to the ranks of hungry. (chinese government did a good job compare to democratic India)

Food in the belly, lets talk.
No food, lets work.

China will work first and talk later.

MikeCowie and Mr Harper just don't know the feeling, talk and debate with empty stomach.

http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-11-12-food-summit-dilutes-hunger-and-ai...
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lydia
How do you know China doesn't need Communist dictatorship to flourish???
Do you know the reasons behind China's prosperity?
How much knowlege do you have about China's history, society, and cosmology?
How do you know all those "heartbreaking oppressions" are all real and not tales?
Don't Canada and US have some "heartbreaking oppressions" out there? Be honest. Peace-keeping armys? or "ignorant" Aboriginals?
Have you ever tested your IQ?
If you know nothing for sure, shut up.
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lydia
the author only sees negative things about Chinese Party. 10months spending in China is nothing, not to mention where you stayed,and what kind of people you stayed with. You cannot possibly understand China's culture and society in merely 10 months.
When there comes to the disasters, Chinese Communist army is the most efficient to save people's life. The Party's leaders are the most caring responsible leaders in the world.
Even you say these are all for a show, has any US and Canada leader played that well?
Capediem says: "China is rising because of their discipline and comradeship". True true true.
China is a unique country. They have unique history and culture foundation.
the Society has different structure. and there is nothing wrong to be different from US or Canada. Chinese are not Canadian!!
Wake up.
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He
I just curious, how Stephen Harper make this visit real? China didn't invite him at first place, he sent 6 or 7 ministers during last few months? I'm really curious what deal they made before he got invitation???
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Stryder
I can't imagine Harper lecturing anyone on just about any issue seriously, without sounding and looking like an absolute hypocrite.
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DM
Obviously, the progress since the Cultural Revolution (which was a disaster for China) has been remarkable. However, freedoms and rights cannot be traded off. People should eat AND have freedom of speech and freedom of religion without heavy state persecution and detentions.
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crade
Whether we like their policies or not, walking up and punching the Chinese government in the face isn't going to help bring about change, it will just make them hate us.

He isn't refusing to kiss China's ass, he is just refusing to ever *not* kiss the U.S.'s ass.
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Dave from toronto.
Very unfortuneately, This just again shows how narrow view and blindly self-rightous that many canadians are, just like the picture that CBC picked to show Canadians Shanghai's "shocking" (that's the reporter said) skyline, which might look same as Toronto downtown if you see it from the lake, but, that's a very a narrow view, cause if the reporter is willing to show a 360 degree picture at same spot, you might be really shocked the that skyline is in every direction endlessly, and also thanks to Canadian medias and writers like Mike Cowie, Canadians won't know actually the same skyline can be seen in many many second line cities, like Wuhan, Nanjing and. Because of the Canadian medias' 'hard' working, Canadians are very welly kept in a honey pot thinking they are the best without knowing what really is happening outside world. And thinking they can somehow charm the China or Bully China.
Wake up, like Prof. Jiang said, "China is too old to be charmed, and too big to be bullied." The reality is the CCP do have dominate support from Chinese themself, so why should we bothering trying so hard to teach them what they should do? Stop your day-dreaming, we need to take our own business, need better job and give our children better live.
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Proud Asian Canadian
I'm amazed by the nationalistic views of some posters here. It's frightful to imagine that they're remotely Canadians living among us here. Clearly their hearts are in that beloved foreign motherland and live on our Canadian charities here at home.
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Bad Canada
Is more like it as human rights abuses are prominent on Canada's streets as Harper's government makes homelessness a household word across Canada while peace keeping Canadian soilders engage in torture.
Food and shelter a human right not in Canada as truck loads of questionable garbage is used to feed the poor as malnutrition and rickets are becoming only to common place amongst Canada's low income. As shelter becomes harder to obtain and many can not deal with the prospect and would sooner die in their sleep. Suicide will sky rocket this XMAS as peace and joy are not for the homeless and the low income but a rock and a hard place as police force non human residents to non existant shelters as Canada sets out to dehumanize, demoralize and finally deleagalize its low income.
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Wang
Really, was the chinese human rights bother the author so much or something else?
Please, everyone read between the line or listen to the tone in the article.

Was Mike Cowie scared of anything? Was he jealous about anything?

Or just the author has been repeatedly tell himself " Not way in hell, those little chinese going to be better off than me financially in near future, they are not even ...." "I, Mike Coiwe going strike Chinese down with my blog and most importantly, I will stir up the hatred".

Chinese people have good memories about Norman Bethune, Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chretien.

To most of us, Stephen Harper, just a confused guy shouldn't be a leader.
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Proud Asian Canadian
Majority of Canadians of Chinese origin irrespective of whether they are from the mainland or overseas, are pleased with Harper's recent visit to China. We celebrate the friendship between the 2 countries with a song written/composed by 2 prominent Vancouverites from the community.

http://www.gcpnews.com/articles/2009-12-09/C1063_46532.html

Let's not split hair to prop up your facebook idols. There's always the next election if your party can get your act together by then.
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Iseeyu
Same person writing most comments . Person loyal Communist . Person belongs in China, Western ways piss person off. Freedom of expression enjoyed in Canada, not allowed in China. Funny how person enjoys freedom Canada brings but praises Communism . Internet access by all people will bring truth to all who seek it. China rising Militarily, economically .Oppressed population used to fuel progress. Chinese people have support from oppressed peoples, from all nations, we are the same. Let Freedom reign .
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harry the tiger
yes, Mike Coiwe is trying to stir up the hatred towards chinese people and china, there are some very dirty part deep in his heart that he would not tell everyone else.
let us watch closely to his hehaviour.
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MikeCowie
Well, "harry the tiger" and "Wang", the fact is this article is in no way "trying to stir up the hatred towards Chinese". This article is simply about the Chinese government.

The truth is I had the most amazing time in China and I thought the Chinese people were absolutely wonderful - very friendly and quite hospitable. I had so many great times with local people all over the country. In fact, I have quite a few Chinese friends, not only in China, but also in Hong Kong, Malaysia and right here in Canada.

Chinese people are great. The Chinese government is anything but.

It's that simple.

I'm not sure why you think criticizing a brutal regime like the one in China is akin to hating the people of that country. For instance, I think the regime in North Korea is horrible too, but that hardly means I hate Korean people. Don't care for the Burmese military junta, but I like all the Burmese people I've met. Didn't much care for Pol Pot's regime, but I like Cambodian people. Stalin's regime was brutal, but that doesn't mean I don't like Russians.

Come on, you've really got to stop equating the Communist Party with all Chinese people because it's simply nonsense.

As "Proud Asian Canadian" says above, it's amazing how much allegiance some Chinese Canadians still seem to have towards the Communist Party of China.

It's quite bizarre indeed.
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Wang
Stephen Harper stoped commuication with China for FIVE long years!

Did Canadian economy benifit from it? NO.
Did it hurt Chinese government? No.

Stephen Harper will keep his job because he stroked canadian people's ego real good by giving them the impression he stood up to a evil mighty China. What he really did was refuse to help a country with 9% people are still starving.

No body benifit from this 5 long years.
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