Canada-China Relations: Comprehensive Rights Strategy Needed, Says Amnesty

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, speaks at a press conference on Parliament Hill on Aug. 30, 2016. A coalition of groups including AI is calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to make human rights an integral part of Canada's relationship with China. (Jonathen Ren/NTD Television)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau begins his first official visit to China as groups at home call on him to support the human rights of the Chinese people, call for the release of prisoners of conscience, and help end repressive actions that have crossed into Canada.

A coalition of groups including Amnesty International is calling on Trudeau to make human rights an integral part of Canada’s relationship with China. While trade is the obvious priority, Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said it shouldn’t be the only priority.

“[Human rights] is absolutely THE question that comes up every single time a Canadian prime minister goes to China or a Chinese leader visits Canada,” Neve told reporters on Parliament Hill on Aug. 30.

“We look to the prime minister to champion an end to the range of human rights violations that are the daily reality for millions and millions of Chinese,” he said.

The Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China, which includes Tibetan, Uyghur, and Chinese democracy groups, as well as Canada-Hong Kong Link and the Falun Dafa Association of Canada, wants a new approach that will see human rights raised in every venue and platform. And that becomes especially important in the case of any future trade deals.

Trade will be a clearly dominant theme during this visit, but it cannot be divorced from human rights.

— Alex Neve , Amnesty International Canada

“Trade will be a clearly dominant theme during this visit, but it cannot be divorced from human rights. The prime minister should indicate that trade talks will be accompanied by human rights assessments,” Neve said.

The change would see human rights become a core component of Canada-China relations instead of something addressed ad hoc, Neve explained.

“We’ve never had a comprehensive Canadian strategy for how to raise human rights with China and who should do it. It’s been left to a handful of determined diplomats rather than the entire team of Canadian officials who have dealings with China.”

Neve noted that trade entirely grounded in human rights is the right thing to do from multiple perspectives.

“Bad trade policy can lead to human rights violations or undermine human rights protection,” he said.

Moreover, “if you pursue trade policy that is grounded in strong human rights principles, that’s all about the rule of law, that’s all about a strong functioning justice system, and that’s absolutely good news from a business and trade investment perspective as well.”

Gloria Fung, director of Canada-Hong Kong Link, speaks at a press conference on Parliament Hill on Aug. 30, 2016. (Jonathen Ren/NTD Television)

Gloria Fung, director of Canada-Hong Kong Link, speaks at a press conference on Parliament Hill on Aug. 30, 2016. (Jonathen Ren/NTD Television)

Trudeau’s visit comes as current leader Xi Jinping nears the endgame in his effort to uproot former leader Jiang Zemin, the man who controlled the regime officially from 1989 to 2002 and extended his reign through to 2012 by stuffing senior organs of the Chinese Communist Party with his loyalists, effectively subverting Hu Jintao’s decade at the helm.

There is hope, according to some China watchers, that Xi will take China toward democracy once he has gained enough control of the Party to do so.

The Falun Gong group, also called Falun Dafa, requested that Trudeau advocate for Jiang to be brought to justice for initiating and orchestrating the violent suppression against adherents of the spiritual discipline.

Shawn Li, president of the Falun Dafa Association of Canada, said that practitioners of Falun Gong across the country recently collected over 120,000 signatures calling on Trudeau to urge the Chinese regime to end the persecution.

The Long Arm of Beijing

Li said the persecution against Falun Gong has also affected people in Canada.

“Western society has also not been spared: Hate propaganda, interference, and trade are used to silence voices of concern in order to cover up these terrible crimes in China,” he said.

Other groups echoed that concern.

“Certainly there are deep and longstanding concerns that the Chinese authorities do interfere with the activities—and thus the rights—of groups of activists based here in Canada,” said Neve.  

Gloria Fung, director of Canada-Hong Kong Link, said she has been studying this issue since she arrived in Canada 26 years ago.

“I have been monitoring and pursuing the global strategy of infiltration and manipulation of public opinion of China in Canada. The infiltration basically takes place at three different levels,” she said.

The first level is through lobbying elected officials, a practice that spurred controversy when former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) director Richard Fadden raised it in 2010.

The second level, said Fung, is through the media.

“It could be direct control of media organizations, or indirect influence on the opinion of media through their own mouthpiece, or though exerting of pressure through advertisers as well as the commercial sector.

“Sometimes they may even plant their own people in that media organization in order to take control of the outcome of news coverage.”

Sometimes they may even plant their own people in that media organization in order to take control of the outcome of news coverage.

— Gloria Fung, Canada-Hong Kong Link

Recently that plan includes a larger emphasis on social media.

“The third level is at the community level. As the former national vice president of the Chinese Canadian National Council, as we fought so hard for the redress of the head tax and Exclusion Act, we had tons of experience of interference from the Chinese Embassy here.”

Fung said pressure from people close to the Chinese embassy has been a consistent problem.

“It tells how deep and wide the arm of the Chinese embassy has stretched in different spheres on our Canadian soil,” she said.

Reigning Miss World Canada pageant titleholder Anastasia Lin made headlines earlier this year when she exposed how her father was threatened in China in an effort to silence her human rights advocacy in Canada.

Chinese security officials are known to routinely visit the family members of overseas activists in order to silence the Chinese diaspora speaking out on human rights and other issues from their new home countries.

In 2014, the Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, found that non-profits and human rights groups active on Chinese rights issues were being hacked by “threat actors” in China with the kind of sophistication that governments and Fortune 500 companies struggle to deal with.

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