Harper's Saving Grace: Canada, China, Trade and Human Rights

"None who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free"

      - Pearl S. Buck

During Prime Minister Stephen Harper's four-day trip to China last week he was hit with a non-stop barrage of sanctimonious scolding and chiding about how he has unwisely undermined Canada's relationship with China during his four years in power.

These public attacks came not just from the Chinese leadership and state-run media, but from the opposition parties back here in Canada as well, particularly the Liberals.

Now there's not much I respect about Stephen Harper, but his stand on China has been one issue where I believe he really deserves some genuine praise. While the rest of the western world has stumbled over itself to suck up to The People's Republic for trade and business purposes, Canada has retained a certain sense of dignity. Harper's refusal to kiss China's ass - when just about every other world leader has been doing nothing but - deserves some real respect in my books.

On just about every other issue, whether it be his shameful disregard for the environment or his abandonment of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr to torture and illegal imprisonment in America's Guantanamo Bay gulag, Harper has consistently shown himself to be one hell of a lousy prime minister. But not in this case.

The fact of the matter is when it comes to putting human rights above trade in this country's relations with China, Harper has truly taken an admirable stand these past few years. Standing up to China, openly criticizing their horrendous human rights record, speaking up for the oppressed Tibetans. These are all worthy stands that every Canadian should be proud of.

Regardless of what some Canadians seem to believe, the sole purpose of a foreign policy is not simply to generate more trade.

Many of the same people who are outraged and disgusted by Harper's lack of concern about the treatment of Omar Khadr (as I myself have been) seem to have little or no concern themselves when it comes to the thousands of political prisoners wasting away in Chinese "re-education" camps. Or the many tortured and/or condemned to death for simply opposing the regime. Or the vast numbers of religiously oppressed. Or the prisoners used as unwilling organ donors. Sadly, none of these people seem to matter all that much to many Canadians.

Sure lots of people in China are getting rich these days, but wealth creation doesn't legitimize horrendous human rights abuses. And millions of people in China are still living under constant oppression, particularly the Tibetans and the Turkic-speaking Uygers of Xinjiang province in the country's far west.

During the 10 months I spent in China earlier this decade I made a lot of good friends and I heard many horrific and heartbreaking tales of injustice and abuse, particularly from Tibetan and Uyger friends, but also from many Han Chinese as well.

But you don't need to have personally visited China to know about the Chinese government's human rights record. It's all very well documented.

Ignoble Ignatieff

The most ridiculous thing this past week has been watching Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff lecturing Harper for not showing China enough respect over the past few years. Isn't Ignatieff the same guy who supported the Iraq War because Iraq was a brutal dictatorship?

When it comes to hypocritical hysterics, it doesn't get much worse than this.

You get the feeling that Ignatieff and all these other business-before-all-else yahoos would be totally excited about close relations with North Korea and Burma too if they could only see a buck or two to be made there.

It would seem that to these people human rights are fine and all, but making some good dough is where it's really at.

Deafening Silence

Harper's insistence on speaking up on this issue has been especially noticeable - and heartening - due to the deafening silence from most other nations in recent years. It seems everyone is so consumed with trade and business opportunities that China's dismal human rights record has become almost irrelevant.

America, of course, is the most pathetically hypocritical of all when it comes to this whole issue, what with their constant condemnation and nearly-50-year-old embargo on Cuba and simultaneous newfound love of Communist China, as if it were some sort of bastion of civilized democracy and human rights, rather than the brutal dictatorship that it is.

Core Canadian Convictions

So, let me say it once again, no matter how much you may despise someone's politics or policies, it's only fair to applaud when they, no matter how infrequently, take the right path. And, like with George W. Bush's dramatic increase in foreign aid to Africa, largely to help fight HIV/AIDS, Harper deserves genuine praise for his non-ass kissing stance when it comes to China.

I mean, what do we believe in here in Canada anyway? Are we a nation that worships the almighty buck - or, in this case, the almighty yuan - or do we actually have some core Canadian values? We've already sold our souls, sold out our environment and traded away our country's reputation to Alberta's oil sands in the name of "increased wealth and job creation above all else". Do we really want to trade in our belief in human rights as well?

I'm with Harper on this one. Both morally and ethically, the ass-kissers and soul sellers are on their own.

Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Monday, December 7th, 2009



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Another 30-plus comments

You can read another 30-plus comments posted in response to this piece on The Georgia Straight's site here.


These include a bizarre number of pro-Communist Party of China comments and a response by me refuting claims by two such people that my dislike of the Chinese regime is, in fact, just a smokescreen to hide my hatred for all Chinese people.


It's really quite sad that some people have been so brainwashed that they equate the Chinese Communist Party with "all Chinese people". It's especially sad when you're talking about Chinese Canadians.

Mike Cowie

Great stuff, Mike. I'm not a big Harper fan either, but...

Great stuff, Mike. I'm not a big Harper fan either, but you have to give credit where credit is due. I find it disheartening when people get so entrenched in their political beliefs that they can't concede when the "opposition" does something right (I'm certain that there are people who would criticize Harper for running into a burning building to save an old lady. "What a jerk - he didn't even bother to grab her photo albums while he was in there"). It doesn't bode well if you want a minority government to accomplish anything.

Canada's stance on China

Excellent position argued here, Mike! I agree with you, and am glad to read someone articulating this. Too often the media do conflate foreign policy with trade policy. DM