“His brain has not only been washed, as they say... It has been dry cleaned.” — Character Dr. Yen Lo in the movie The Manchurian Candidate.
Is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the Canadian version of The Manchurian Candidate, brainwashed to do China’s bidding as in the famous movie and book?
Trudeau’s recent statements about considering an extradition treaty with a military dictatorship that executes more “criminals” than any other country, and hoping to get a free trade deal with China to double trade by 2025 are both troubling.
And while Trudeau is not brainwashed, he is showing poor judgment when it comes to China and has done so before.
Back in November 2013, Trudeau was asked what other country in the world impressed him most and his answer shocked.
“There’s a level of admiration I actually have for China,” he said. “Their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime.”
Now his willingness to consider an extradition treaty with China — which would have Canada send suspects back to face justice in China for alleged crimes — is raising huge concern with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among others.
“The extraordinary weaknesses in China’s due process and fair trial rights are well documented. China wants this treaty to create a veneer of legality for fundamentally abusive tactics,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, according to the New York Times. “Beijing will then also be able to say to other governments, ‘Canada signed one, why won’t you.’”
Adds Amnesty’s Canadian secretary general Alex Neve: “It’s very clear that China regularly seeks the return to China of individuals who are wanted for political reasons or religious reasons.”
In August, before Trudeau made a state visit to China, a coalition of human rights groups including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch sent the Canadian government a list of 13 prisoners of conscience unjustly jailed for years and requested a report back on their situations.
“Unfortunately we could readily compile a document of hundreds of individuals who are unjustly imprisoned and who are at risk of torture and other abuses,” the coalition wrote Trudeau. “We have chosen these cases because they are emblematic of wider patterns of persecution.”
And the group raised an additional Canadian concern.
“We wish to stress as well that our Coalition is aware of at least 17 prisoners currently held in China, some of who are included in the attached list, who are Canadian citizens, immediate family of Canadian citizens or have other close Canadian connections.”
The issue of an extradition treaty with China has also been raised and opposed in the United States.
New York University law professor Jerome A. Cohen wrote a scathing article in Foreign Policy magazine last year condemning the idea.
“There is a reason why the United States and most democratic nations do not have extradition treaties with China. That reason is China’s criminal justice system, which, 26 years after the Tiananmen tragedy, has still failed to meet the minimum standards of international due process of law,” Cohen wrote.
“Indeed, since [Chinese President] Xi Jinping’s assumption of power, despite a plethora of hymns extolling the rule of law, in practice China’s criminal justice system has been steadily marching in the wrong direction, and this is no state secret or development known only to Chinese and foreign legal specialists,” he wrote.
“The whole world knows of the Communist Party’s ongoing brutal attack upon China’s human rights and criminal defence lawyers,” Cohen says.
But it’s not just the extradition treaty that is troubling — it’s also the possibility of a free trade deal.
A spokesperson for the Dalai Lama, who has peacefully campaigned to end the Chinese occupation of Tibet, warned against a free trade deal with Canada that does not deal with China’s human rights abuses.
“You have your national interests, but also make sure your values are preserved and respected,” said Penpa Tsering, the Dalai Lama’s special representative to Canada and the U.S. “Put your national values in the forefront when you negotiate with powers like China.”
Tsering said that since 2009, 144 Tibetans have taken their own lives through self-immolation, dying fiery deaths to protest China’s occupation.
Given Trudeau’s past history of gaffes when it comes to China and the importance that country places on closely monitoring every word world leaders say about it, one might think he and his staff would be very, very careful.
But Trudeau’s office certainly isn’t helping. When asked if the prime minister trusts the Chinese judicial system, the official answer from Trudeau’s spokesman was troubling.
“You’re asking me to criticize the Chinese system — I’m not going to go down that road,” replied spokesman Cameron Ahmad to The Huffington Post last week.
Really? Is Canada’s prime minister not even willing to acknowledge the huge problems every major human rights group has documented for decades?
“I’m personally very distressed by this attitude,” says Brock University professor Charles Burton, an expert on China and human rights. The Liberal approach ignores overwhelming evidence about the lack of due legal process in China.
“And then there is the other issue, which is the mistreatment in interrogation, the use of torture for forced confessions, pervasive problems of false confessions... that would really be a big concern to us in sending anyone back,” he said.
Canada has shown no signs of standing up to China. In June, during a visit by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, iPolitics reporter Amanda Connolly asked Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion about China’s poor human rights record.*
The Chinese minister responded with an angry outburst and lecture.
“Your question is full of prejudice against China and arrogance... I don’t know where that comes from. This is totally unacceptable,” said Wang, speaking through a translator.
“Other people don’t know better than the Chinese people about the human rights condition in China and it is the Chinese people who are in the best situation, in the best position to have a say about China’s human rights situation.
“So I would like to suggest to you that please don’t ask questions in such an irresponsible manner. We welcome goodwill suggestions but we reject groundless or unwarranted accusations... And do you know China has written protection and promotion of human rights into our constitution?”
Minister Dion stood by quietly without objecting to Wang’s tirade, earning him national criticism.
Trudeau later said Canada had “expressed our dissatisfaction to both the Chinese foreign minister and the ambassador of China to Canada — our dissatisfaction with the way our journalists were treated,” but the impression of deference to China even in Canada was clear.
So while Trudeau may not be the Manchurian candidate, his willingness to overlook China’s appalling human rights record and sign an extradition treaty isn’t about brainwashing — it’s about selling more goods at any price.
*Story clarified Oct. 4 at 1 p.m.
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