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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Harper's rights message to China fell short: Activists

February 13, 2012

OTTAWA - The prime minister is being praised for knocking the ball out of the park as a salesman for Canada during his trade mission to China this week.

But critics say he struck out when it came to selling human rights.

Dermod Travis, with the Canada Tibet Committee, pointed Saturday to the 20 Canadians currently being held in Chinese jails.

"He's not returning with one of these Canadians," he said. "But he's returning with two pandas."

Travis said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited China earlier this month, brought a more pointed human rights message to the Asian economic juggernaut, scheduling meetings with a human rights lawyer and a Guangzhou paper known to tackle sensitive issues.

She then publicly expressed regret when both events were cancelled by Chinese officials.

"She did not try to hide the issues," said Travis, and criticized Harper's speech to an audience of Chinese business leaders where he broadly broached human rights as a "nudge-nudge, wink-wink affair."

Urgyen Badheytsang, a campaigner with Students for a Free Tibet, also said Harper's actions fell short.

"He didn't do justice to what is really happening in China," he said, noting eight Tibetan monks have set themselves on fire in protest against Chinese rule in January alone.

But Harper defended his efforts Saturday, saying he'd tackled specific concerns - including consular cases - privately during high-level bilateral meetings in Beijing.

"I make it my habit when I'm in another country not to say anything publicly critical of that country," Harper said.

-- with files from David Akin, Reuters

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