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Rights Groups Slam Inaction as Trudeau Tours China

Canada silent as Beijing steps up repression at home and abroad, critics say.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 4 Dec 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

Canada is failing to press the Chinese government on human rights as Beijing increasingly attempts to suppress critics outsides its borders, says Human Rights Watch.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in China this week, a visit many observers link to efforts to reach a free trade agreement despite widespread concern in Canada.

And it’s not just Canadians who are looking skeptically at Trudeau’s increasingly cozy relationship with China.

Maya Wang, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in Asia said Canada is not living up to its claim to be a champion of international human rights.

“So far his leadership has been generally weak on China. He hasn’t really said anything on human rights,” Wang told The Tyee in a phone interview from Hong Kong.

She said Canada’s silence comes amid growing concern Beijing is ignoring the sovereignty of other nations as it aims to “shape international order according to its own image, more authoritarian and less democratic.”

The Chinese government has been linked to a number of attempts to suppress criticism in other counties.

In January, the Chinese embassy in Britain tried to pressure a student debating society at Durham University not to allow Chinese-born Canadian Anastasia Lin to participate in a debate.

Lin, a former Miss World Canada, is critical of the Chinese government. The embassy warned that allowing her to participate could damage relations between the U.K. and China.

Australian author Clive Hamilton, an academic who has written a book on Chinese government infiltration of the country’s institutions, blamed threats from Beijing for the last-minute withdrawal of his publisher.

And last week a Chinese under-20 soccer team suspended its tour of Germany after officials refused to prevent Tibetan protesters from demonstrating at the games, citing the principle of freedom of expression.

As well, Wang said, Middle East governments are co-operating with Beijing to repatriate dissident members of the Chinese Muslim Uygher community.

Wang said events inside China can have serious consequences in Canada because of the country’s large Chinese population, many with dual citizenship.

“When they are in China, they experience the same range of human rights abuses Chinese citizens also experience or their families are impacted by these abuses.”

The Chinese government can pressure family members in China to convince relatives in Canada to face politically motivated accusations of corruption, she said.

Human Rights Watch is also concerned that the Chinese government sends agents to pursue such people in other countries and try to force them to return without permission from the foreign governments, Wang said.

Chinese media in Canada are also subject to the pressure to toe the government line, she said.

Cheuk Kwan of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China said he’s concerned about Beijing’s “sinister” and sometimes successful attempts to infiltrate Canadian governments and the Liberal government’s lack of action on the issue.

The association was part of a joint statement released from 15 rights groups, including Amnesty International, demanding Trudeau place human rights at the top of his agenda when he travels to China, including the plight of Canadians imprisoned there.

Kwan said local Chinese consulates are known to appeal to the emotions of Chinese expats to try to get them to fall in line with Beijing’s agenda. If that fails, they try tactics like excluding them from social events where valuable business and personal contacts in the community can be made.

Kwan said Trudeau’s government has not addressed the threats, pointing out the previous Conservative government often stressed trade was dependent on human rights.

“I hope he’s naive,” he said. “If he’s not naive then he’s in the know and that’s even worse.”

Kwan warned Canada could end up experiencing the same problems as Australia.

That country has been in an uproar over questions about Chinese influence over politicians. On Thursday, a senator resigned over allegations wealthy Chinese business people were buying his influence.

Canada has long maintained it will address human rights issues with China through trade agreements, and Trudeau said in 2016 that human rights must improve in China before a trade deal is signed.

But rights groups say the situation in China has worsened since Trudeau’s declaration as the government cracks down on dissidents.

Under President Xi Jinping, the government recently made disrespecting the national anthem a crime, carrying a penalty of three years in prison.

Chinese censors even banned mentions of Winnie the Pooh from the internet because bloggers were mocking Xi by comparing his appearance to the bear, inspired by a real black bear from Canada kept at a zoo in London.

Kwan said he understands Trudeau is concerned about the risks to the economy from the U.S. efforts to renegotiate NAFTA and wants a trade deal with China.

But he worries Canada will concede too much and make no progress on human rights.

“Any trade deal has to have a human rights impact analysis,” Kwan insists.

Back in Hong Kong, Wang said concerns are mounting over Canada’s bland response to the Chinese government’s actions.

She said it’s imperative Canada stand up for democratic values and human rights now or it will be more difficult in the future. The situation is at a critical point, she said.

“We wanted to see countries like Canada step up because rhetorically and domestically it has generally a good solid record,” Wang said. “It just hasn’t pulled its comparative weight in relation to China.”  [Tyee]

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