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Monday, November 20, 2006

The human right to look busy

Two articles in two days have mentioned that the Chretien government established the Canada-China Joint Committee on Human Rights in 1997, citing this as evidence that the previous Liberal governments were very active on the issue of human rights in China. Today we have Alan Woods in the National Post: PM snipes at Liberals over China and yesterday there was Jennifer Ditichburn's CP piece: Harper declares his government has a gutsier style on the world stage (which I mentioned in a post yesterday) and. But for years, human rights groups and China critics have been telling me that entities like this committee are more an attempt to contain the issue rather than examine it. In other words, it's a way of looking busy while not really doing anything.

Now that it's being brought up I thought it would be interesting to examine the news coverage of that committee over the last ten years. So I started searching databases. The results were even more hilarious than I had anticipated. When I began I assumed there would be a hundred or so stories, and I guessed--based on what I had been told--that most them would be rather lame. I didn't think I would be able to actually list the pieces in a small amount of space. But lo, here they are, a mere total of 7 in ten years. As you read the list, keep in mind that the committee was established by then-Foreign Affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy.

April 22, 1997 editorial in Montreal Gazette by Lloyd Axworthy: Canada still pushing for rights in China

April 24, 1997 letter to the editor in The Financial Post by Lloyd Axworthy: China decision a difficult one

April 28, 1997 letter to the editor in the Toronto Star by Lloyd Axworthy: Canada got unprecedented human rights deal with China

April 28, 1997 letter to the editor in the Calgary Herald by Lloyd Axworthy: Canada pursues different route with China

November 29, 1997 editorial in the The Financial Post: China relationship worth cultivating

December 28, 1999 editorial in the Ottawa Citizen: ... and other foreign policy compromises

November 3, 2005 CP story in the Sudbury Star: Human rights focus of Canada-China dialogue

I searched the Infomart database using several variations of terms, and then Proquest. Maybe there were a lot more stories and I couldn’t find them. Maybe that committee was busy doing something behind the scenes, but it doesn’t appear to have generated much public discussion throughout the last decade. And my guess is that is exactly what the Chinese wanted.

Posted by Kevin Steel on November 20, 2006 in International Affairs | Permalink


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One more travesty in the Liberal grab-bag of failed policy.

And people still vote for these loosers.

Posted by: missing link | 2006-11-20 8:36:30 AM

Interesting .... Just a few days ago this blog was all a-flutter complaining that Rona Ambrose's "fossil of the day" award was getting a lot of coverage and that Stephane Dion's a year ago did not. It was taken as a basic premise of the discussion that the amount of coverage that something gets is *NOT* an indication of its relative importance. Now Kevin reports the almost complete lack of coverage of the Canada-China Joint Committee on Human Rights and seems to conclude that this lack of coverage *IS* an indication of it's lack of importance.

Anyone care to try to "spin" an explanation of this inconsistency?

Posted by: Mark Logan | 2006-11-20 8:45:02 AM

BTW, if you want a better assessment of the degree of success of the Canada-China Joint Committee on Human Rights than a search of what the MSM has had to say about it, try reading this: http://www.uyghuramerican.org/docs/Assessment_of_the_Canada-China_Bilater...pdf I know that it's easier for most here to just assume that because it was a Liberal initiative it must have been a disaster, but I provide the link for anyone who cares about, you know, real information rather than assumptions.

It was written for the Uyghur American Association in 2005, so it is both recent and from the point of view of an organization that has a strong interest in seeing human rights in China improved. But it's 20 pages, so I know most here won't bother to read it. Duke should get someone to read it to him, since it has big words in it.

Posted by: Mark Logan | 2006-11-20 9:11:22 AM

As always the Libral bluster over Chinese human rights abuses is a diversion to make the nation think they are still a principled regime while Liberal party insiders strike massive deals with the Chinese government with the help of their Chinese business broker in the PMO.

I heard no howls of indigantion from Kilgour when he was a full time silenced Liberal CabiMin about Chinese transplant organs harvest from freshly killed Falun gong political prisoners.

Perhaps Harper has an aversion to this type of two faced public image.

Posted by: Wlyonmackenzie | 2006-11-20 9:22:57 AM


In my post I was simply focusing on the MSM and not on other efforts, but I take your point. Thanks for the link. By complete coincidence, someone was just pointing that report out to me over the phone.

As for the inconsistency mentioned in your first comment, first off let me say someone else posted on the fossil of the day award, not me, so consistency shouldn't be an issue. There is no organized spin here. (Some days I wish there was because then I would have less work). This is a group blog with a wide variety of authors invited to post though many haven't or post irregularly. Having said that, I don't understand your point. The lack of coverage of the fossil of the day award to Stephane Dion I think was presented as evidence of the degree of importance, or lack thereof, the MSN attached to it. Same with my post above. It looks consistent to me.

Posted by: Kevin Steel | 2006-11-20 9:51:07 AM


I think if Mark had understood the basic premise of the discussion to be "NOT NECESSARILY" rather than the "NOT" he posted, then he would not have made his first post.

Posted by: Brent Weston | 2006-11-20 10:01:25 AM

I'm still reeling over the National Post decision to publish Alan Woods vicious attack piece. From the headline to the last paragraph it's a hatchet job of epic proportions. What in Heaven's Name is going on at the National Post? Why do they uncritically print CanWest smears (this is by no means the first?

Posted by: Patrick B | 2006-11-20 10:06:16 AM


"The lack of coverage of the fossil of the day award to Stephane Dion I think was presented as evidence of the degree of importance, or lack thereof, the MSN attached to it. Same with my post above."

Ok, but then I'm not sure why you or anyone should care. I mean, the news search shows that the MSM has not been interested in Canada's attempts over the last decade to pursue human rights issues with China, but that just adds it to the list of thousands of things that are important that they have not shown an interest in. It does not mean that the appraoch has been ineffective (although it might be). What it really refelects is the fact that Canadians in general have not been to interested in human rights in China. Just as before no one was much interested in human rights in Rwanda before all hell broke loose or in the human rights situation of Afghanistan before September, 2001, we have an appaling ability to not give a damn. If we don't care, the press tends not to write about it (gotta sell papers, after all).

So if the only point of your post was to say that the MSM has not been interested in human rights in China, I don't see the point of the post. I thought we already knew that most Canadians on most days have not cared. But that does not seem to be the point of your post, as your heading suggests. You seem to want to be saying that the Committee has just been all show and no results. And so you write, "Maybe there were a lot more stories and I couldn’t find them. Maybe that committee was busy doing something behind the scenes, but it doesn’t appear to have generated much public discussion throughout the last decade." But these two sentences are unrelated. The number of stories should not be thought to have any relationship to how much work was being done - either behind the scenes or in public. If a lot is being accomplished, then that is good regardless of the amount of press coverage. If little gets done, then that is bad regardless of the amount of press coverage. So why bother mention the amount of press coverage at all?

Posted by: Mark Logan | 2006-11-20 11:02:03 AM

The point I was trying to make is that the strategy of the Chinese--to keep the issue out of the news by using the committee as an empty well to shout down--has been successful. btw, that is the what the report you linked to concluded as well. I was able to find another article, Globe and Mail, June 16, 2006 "Rights dialogue in China blasted as futile" where this report is cited--though not by name--as such as well (the committee is not named in that news article either which is why my initial search didn't find it).
Rights dialogue in China blasted as futile
Friday, June 16, 2006, Page A1

BEIJING -- After nine years of futile discussions with Beijing over human rights, Canadian officials are increasingly dissatisfied and cynical about an annual dialogue that was intended to promote human rights in China, a new report says...

[The dialogue] has been assailed by a coalition of Canadian human-rights groups, which is calling for its temporary suspension and reassessment. And a study by a Canadian professor found that the dialogue is largely a propaganda exercise, intended by China to defuse foreign criticism...

The coalition, citing a detailed study by Brock University political scientist Charles Burton, said there are "substantial shortcomings and failings" in the dialogue, launched by the previous Liberal government in 1997, and argued that it should be delayed until the government responds to the Burton report.

Mr. Burton, who has been invited to testify to Mr. Kenney's parliamentary subcommittee, concluded that the dialogue is plagued by "pervasive cynicism" and "dialogue fatigue." Most of it is scripted in advance and has "little connection" to realities on the ground, he found...

Posted by: Kevin Steel | 2006-11-20 12:46:00 PM

Oh, is *THAT* your point. Then it's still a silly one :-) I pointed out to Winnie The Pooh a few days ago that it makes no sense to complain that the past government did not get the results we would like with regard to the Kazemi case. Iran just does not give a damn what Canada says, and so they have ignored us and will continue to do so. I pointed out that Peter MacKay has been no more successful with them, nor should we expect him to be. As for China, the same is true, just multiplied by 1000. The Chinese are unlikely to respond to Canada's concerns whether publically or privately raised. As Professor Joyner of the University of Warwick in Coventry, England was quoted saying in today's National Post, "It's highly unlikely that any overtures from Canada will make any difference because no gestures from anyone else have made any difference." To think otherwise is to have a bloated idea of Canada's influence.

But the Uyghur American Association report does not paint an entirely dismal picture. On the biggest human rights issues, it is true little (if anything) has been accomplished, but on many other human rights issues things have advanced. Those listed include: "the promotion of the concepts of family violence and of sexual harassment in China and associated legislation, the presumption of innocence in criminal procedure law, improved management of prisons, improved policing procedures including arrest protocols, promotion of rule of law through foreign-funded programs for training of legal professionals including judges, etc."

Politics, it has been said, is the art of the possible. So rather than complaining that the Liberals did not do the impossible (and what? that Harper will with his public blustering? Yeah... Right....) why not note the accomplishments that have been achieved. They are less than half a loaf, but they are more than nothing. They also are the only results that are realistically possible.

Posted by: Mark Logan | 2006-11-20 1:32:05 PM

Committees are a great way to sideline the earnest ethical people. Liberals are masters at pushing ethics aside, gotta give'm that. Well, that, and stealing millions of dollars and getting away with it, nothing unethical about that in Liberal Canada either.

Posted by: Philanthropist | 2006-11-20 5:26:08 PM

Careful people. Is it a troll alert?

Chinese are masters in the art of dissimulation. Committees are like chinese martial art. Very good at defeating western strategies.

I realize it is quite hard for someone to hear when his head is in the sand. But let's try anyway. Maybe he takes it out a few seconds.

In WWIII which started on 9/11, on which side is China?

Is China doing all it can to stop NK nut job?
Is China helping us to get rid of this nutjob so people there can stop starving?

Is China helping Iran to get nukes in order to wipe out Israel (6 million potential dead)?

Is China helping us to fight terrorism?

Is China helping us to prevent Islamists to equip terrorists in Canada with portable nukes?

In the event a terrorist cell blow up a nuclear device in Ottawa with the strength of the Hiroshima device, what next?

Posted by: Rémi Houle | 2006-11-20 7:37:59 PM

kk you failed to include the charter of rights and freedom along with the essential odious 'garbage'.

Posted by: Frico | 2006-11-21 11:26:06 PM

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