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Federal Politics

Trudeau Has More Time for China’s Elites than Us, Rights Group Complains

Visiting billionaires club gets more political access, says the org.

Jeremy Nuttall 22 Oct

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

As a “club” of Chinese billionaires travel across the country meeting politicians and business leaders, Canadian organizations concerned with human rights in China complain they’ve been sidelined since the Liberals took power last year.

Members of the China Entrepreneur Club, representing the 50 largest Chinese companies, have or are meeting Canada’s political and business elite on tour this week, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But organizations focused on human rights in China say they haven’t been able to get the same access to decision-makers.

In fact, said Cheuk Kwan of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, access was better under the former Conservative government than it has been since the Liberals took power more than a year ago.

“They’re focusing on business, while they’re soft-pedalling on human rights,” Kwan said.

The desire to do business with China is understandable, Kwan said, but human rights issues must also be part of the discussion.

Kwan said his organization was able to win occasional meetings with foreign affairs minister John Baird during the Harper government, which had cooler relations with China.

But he still hasn’t had a response to a year-old request to meet Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion to discuss human rights issues, Kwan said. Other groups have similar complaints, he said.

“I’m sure that they have been listening to business groups and more pro-China lobbying groups more than they ever listen to us,” Kwan said.

Kwan said he had also pushed for a meeting with Global Affairs Canada officials before Trudeau’s recent China trip, but it was scheduled for after the mission. Meeting before the trip would have given government officials an updated briefing on rights issues, he said.

Since the end of summer, Trudeau has met at least four times with two Beijing-friendly business associations.

The Prime Minister attended a dinner hosted by the Canada China Business Council in Shanghai on Sept. 1 and an event the group hosted in Montreal with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Sept. 23.

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland also met with the group this year. Its former president, Peter Harder, was nominated for a Senate seat in March.

The organization was formed in 1978 by businesses including Canada’s SNC Lavalin and Bombardier and the Chinese state-owned CITIC group (formerly the China International Trust and Investment Corporation).

Trudeau also met with the China Entrepreneur Club in Beijing on Aug. 30. On Tuesday, he met at Meech Lake with some of China’s wealthiest business people as part of the club’s cross-Canada tour.

Members of the current Chinese business delegation said they intend to raise Canadian trade policies they say hold back investment.

Chinese real estate developer Frank Wu said he wanted to complain to Trudeau about the “unfair” 15 per cent tax on foreign homebuyers in Metro Vancouver introduced by the B.C. government.

A spokeswoman for the China Entrepreneur Club told The Tyee at a lunch for the billionaires hosted by Invest Ottawa this week that the Canadian government reached out to them with an invitation for the meetings.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said he’s concerned the Liberal government is meeting far more frequently with pro-trade business groups than with human rights organizations.

Kent said the government also appears to be silencing or muting rights campaigners.

He pointed to a “privacy wall” erected at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa to prevent visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang from seeing protesters as he entered and left the hotel. Many of them were practitioners of Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong. Followers report persecution by the Chinese government.

Kent said it isn’t yet clear what if any role the government played in the wall, but said he’s concerned Ottawa may have been.

A Falun Dafa group also lodged a complaint with Parliament Hill security officials alleging an RCMP officer disconnected its sound system on Parliament Hill when Li arrived, an act Kent said is against protocol.

“It would seem that someone in the PMO directed the RCMP to interfere with free speech on the Hill,” he said. “And that’s simply unacceptable.”

Kent said it’s important that MPs meet with groups to get a better sense of their concerns.

And he accused the Liberals of being soft on human rights in China to advance their pursuit of business deals. The government needs to do a better job of balancing the two priorities, he added.

Global Affairs spokesperson Austin Jean said in a written statement that promotion and protection of human rights is “a priority in our relationship with China.”

The government consistently raises human rights concerns with the Chinese government, Jean said, and engages regularly with “a wide range of groups from Canada, China and elsewhere” on labour rights, democracy and human rights in China.

Alex Neve from Amnesty International said he has no complaints about communication with the government, but he is concerned about talk of a potential extradition treaty with the country.

During Li’s September visit, Trudeau revealed he is discussing an extradition treaty with Beijing. Dion subsequently denied negotiations are taking place.

Neve said an extradition treaty assumes Canada and China have similar justice systems. “Given all of the very significant human rights short comings still in the Chinese justice system, that process is going to have a lot of pitfalls,” he said.  [Tyee]

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