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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Canada: Ignatieff's China blunder

July 9, 2010

Calgary Herald
July 8, 2010

Considering that not too many decades ago Calgary
wouldn't even pick up the garbage in Chinatown,
one cannot entirely criticize Liberal Leader
Michael Ignatieff for telling Chinese students
this week that neither Canada nor China has "a
flawless past or present" on human rights.
Flawless past, no, but it's the "present" part
that is troubling. Ignatieff's suggestion that
Canada and China are present-day moral equals has
rightly sent commentators into a tizzy.

Indeed, what was Ignatieff thinking when he went
on to say that "We should move forward together,
to learn from each other in matters of rights,
justice, civil service reform, and corporate
social responsibility." Corporate social
responsibility? Justice? Rights? Numerous
organizations, including Amnesty International
and Human Rights Watch, have documented the
People's Republic of China's human rights abuses.
The PRC allows freedom of speech in principle,
unless it comes into conflict with what is deemed
"the subversion of state power." The Internet is
censored. Activists languish in jail without due
process. Falun Gong practitioners and Christians
are jailed and have their organs harvested for
profit -- rendering religious belief in China a
potential death sentence. Self-determination is
not allowed for territories like Tibet considered
under the jurisdiction of Beijing. In Canada,
separatism is democratically wielded as a club to
gain concessions from Ottawa and members of
separatist parties are both members of Parliament
and the legislature in Quebec City.

The People's Republic argues that human rights
should include measures of health and economic
prosperity. Here, too, Ignatieff acquiesced to
his hosts, saying, "the prosperity that has
lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens
out of absolute poverty has been one of the most
significant advances in human rights for mankind
ever." It is one thing to have the means to own a
mobile phone computer, but quite another to
freely express or exchange ideas on those
devices. Rights and freedoms are ideals, not pieces of technological hardware.

In his speech to students at Tsinghua University,
Ignatieff said he intended to tell Chinese
leaders "about the progress that is still
possible." And, in an interview, he reiterated
that point. "I will raise lots of cases," he
said. "The idea that I've come to China to make nice is not correct."

As a former director of the Carr Centre for Human
Rights at Harvard University and someone who has
made a career of studying human rights, we would
hope that a man who aspires to be prime minister
would, indeed, raise these matters. In a
thinly-veiled criticism of Prime Minister Stephen
Harper, Ignatieff said "megaphone diplomacy" --
loudly lecturing China -- doesn't work. That may
be true, but neither does giving PRC
propagandists fodder they can quote, especially
when it emanates from mouth of a respected advocate of human rights.

Ignatieff quoted Deng Xiaoping, who led China out
of the Cultural Revolution, as saying "Seek truth
from the facts." The Liberal leader would be wise
to do the same before equating China and Canada
as modern-day equals on human rights.
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