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Canada still needs to engage with China despite its human rights record, experts say

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Canada must continue to engage with China despite its lingering concerns about the country’s human rights record at home and emerging evidence of its efforts to coerce dissidents living abroad to return.

That’s the message from two Canadians with extensive experience working in China. They spoke to CBC The House in an interview aired Saturday about the challenge of balancing the need for security with economic interests when dealing with a superpower that does not share Canada’s democratic values.

“I think as Canadians we have to fight for what we think is right, but also for our own position in things,” said Sarah Kutulakos, executive director of the Canada-China Business Council.

Relations between the two countries remain strained even after China released Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadians whose arrests were widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s detention of Chinese business executive Meng Wangzhou. under a US extradition warrant.

Conservative politicians, including former MP Kenny Chiu, have accused the Chinese government of targeting them with disinformation campaigns on social media during the last election. Chiu and two other candidates lost their seats in ridings with large numbers of Chinese-Canadian voters.

And this week, international human rights group Safeguard Defenders released a report detailing dozens of cases where it says evidence shows Chinese authorities have used underhanded and unethical tactics to force dissidents to return from Canada and other countries, such as the arrest of family members still in China and even the abduction of individuals. abroad.

26:35China’s Coercion Tactics

Laura Harth of the group Safeguard Defenders warns against Beijing’s bullying tactics against Chinese dissidents living abroad. Jeff Nankivell, CEO of the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada, and Sarah Kutulakos, Managing Director of the Canada-China Business Council, discuss Canada’s next steps. 26:35

Hostage diplomacy

Laura Harth from SafeguardDefenders said The Housethat most countries, including Canada, are unwilling to speak out against these tactics.

“We know that Canada is all too familiar with hostage diplomacy cases that can be used. So there’s a tendency to not really pay attention to that, that’s why we think it’s really urgent because that it goes to the heart of national sovereignty,” she said.

His organization says it has found seven cases of people living in Canada being approached by Chinese agents. In one case, a former Chinese Supreme Court justice, Xie Weidong, was charged with corruption after publicly criticizing China’s penal system.

The Safeguard Defenders report says Chinese police detained his sister and son in an attempt to force him to return. He refused.

Harth said his organization wants the House of Commons special committee on Canada-China relations reinstated. The committee was dissolved last year with the call of the elections.

“If you’re not able to protect the rights to our own lands, that’s a huge problem for everyone,” Harth said. “We therefore call on the government to really investigate and expose these practices and ensure that adequate monitoring and protection mechanisms are in place.”

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said his party was considering reinstating the Commons committee on Canada-China relations. (Joe Fiorino/CBC)

In a statement to the media, Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said The House his party will seek to reinstate the committee that the ruling Liberals opposed in 2019 “in due course”.

Longtime diplomat Jeff Nankivell agreed that Canada should continue to speak out against China’s treatment of minority groups within its own borders and challenge any “coercive” measures taken against Canadian citizens like Spavor and Kovrig.

Not quite as usual

“It’s really important to point out that a return to business as usual is not open to us on the Canadian side,” said Nankivell, now president and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

“But at the same time, we have to signal an openness to meet with Chinese leaders, to discuss with them things that we have as common interests. And we have serious interests on the Canadian side in areas like climate change and health cooperation. And there are also things that China is interested in talking about in Canada, some of them in the same areas … so I think they need that. »

Kutulakos said his business group would also like to see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reconnect with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“You know, I will say that the United States is sitting there fighting tooth and nail with China. And yet Xi Jinping and (US President) Joe Biden met for three hours recently,” he said. she stated.

“Our own leaders don’t have these meetings. And we have a variety of existing dialogues that are frozen and could be revived so that we can call out China on the things that we don’t like, but also push for market access and other things that can contribute to Canada’s prosperity.

Canada, of course, does not have the kind of economic and political clout that the United States brings to the table in all discussions with China. It is a contest of equals.

Still, Nankivell said Canada had other options in Asia, with other countries offering new markets and alliances as a counterweight to China.

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