China’s abuses aren’t fake news

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - John Roe

It’s al­ways good to know the kind of people you’re do­ing busi­ness with — es­pe­cially if you’re mulling over a big deal.

With that in mind, we can thank China’s am­bas­sador to Canada for frankly stat­ing this week just how lit­tle his coun­try val­ues democ­racy, hu­man rights and a free press.

The Trudeau govern­ment is ex­plor­ing whether the two coun­tries should be­gin ne­go­ti­at­ing a free-trade agree­ment.

And while China is in­creas­ingly an im­por­tant trad­ing part­ner for, and in­vestor in, Canada, our govern­ment must de­ter­mine whether the eco­nomic ties should be­come even tighter — and whether that could bind us in un­fore­seen and un­wel­come ways.

In Ot­tawa on Tues­day, Chi­nese am­bas­sador Lu Shaye re­vealed much about his po­lit­i­cal mas­ters in Bei­jing when he chided the fed­eral govern­ment for bow­ing down to the Cana­dian me­dia’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with hu­man rights.

Eco­nomic en­gage­ment and hu­man rights are not con­nected, Lu in­sisted be­fore fir­ing a ver­bal broad­side at Cana­dian jour­nal­ists for paint­ing a neg­a­tive por­trait of China as a hu­man rights abuser and lack­ing in democ­racy.

Cana­dian politi­cians have of­ten raised is­sues of hu­man rights on vis­its to China so it is only fair the Chi­nese am­bas­sador speaks can­didly here.

But the prob­lem Lu and China’s to­tal­i­tar­ian Com­mu­nist govern­ment face is not an un­con­trol­lable Cana­dian me­dia, it is China’s dis­grace­ful record on hu­man rights and free­doms.

The lat­est re­port from Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, a re­spected non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion that fo­cuses on hu­man rights, of­fers a scathing as­sess­ment of life in China.

The re­port reads like a litany of re­pres­sion, cit­ing a “na­tion­wide crack­down on hu­man rights lawyers and ac­tivists” who “con­tin­ued to be sys­tem­at­i­cally sub­jected to mon­i­tor­ing, ha­rass­ment, in­tim­i­da­tion, ar­rest and de­ten­tion.”

Chi­nese po­lice “de­tained in­creas­ing num­bers of hu­man rights de­fend­ers out­side of for­mal de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties, some­times with­out ac­cess to a lawyer … ex­pos­ing the de­tainees to the risk of tor­ture and other ill-treat­ment,” the re­port con­tin­ued.

“Con­trols on the in­ter­net, mass me­dia and academia were sig­nif­i­cantly strength­ened” while govern­ment per­se­cu­tion of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties in­creased and was “par­tic­u­larly se­vere” in “Ti­betan-pop­u­lated ar­eas.”

Am­bas­sador Lu might say Amnesty In­ter­na­tional is wrong, but there are enough in­de­pen­dent re­ports com­ing out of China to sug­gest its pic­ture is true.

And con­trary to what Lu in­sists, this should mat­ter to Canada in any free trade talks.

If Chi­nese com­pa­nies, which of­ten have strong state con­nec­tions, want to in­vest more in Canada, their ac­tiv­i­ties should be trans­par­ent and pose no threat to Cana­dian se­cu­rity.

How Chi­nese work­ers are treated should mat­ter to Cana­di­ans, too.

Our de­sire for greater ac­cess to the world’s se­cond big­gest econ­omy should not close our eyes to dan­ger­ous, sub­stan­dard work­ing con­di­tions.

More­over, if Canada does more busi­ness in China, it’s cru­cial for Cana­dian busi­ness people who travel there to be aware of how the Chi­nese state could limit their move­ments, cen­sor their speech or pun­ish an ac­tion that would be en­tirely le­gal in Canada.

In­deed, pub­lish­ing this ed­i­to­rial in China might lead, we sus­pect, to an un­wel­come knock on the au­thor’s door from state of­fi­cials. Lu might think this mat­ters not. Cana­di­ans should know it does.

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