Stephen Harper's Conservative government is taking Canada to places Liberals feared to tread on the world stage -- a place where frank talk leaves no doubt that human rights matter to Canadians.
In the run up to last week's APEC conference in Vietnam, China's Communist government proposed a formal meeting between Prime Minister Harper and Chinese President Hu Jintao. Mr. Harper agreed. But then the Chinese cancelled at the last minute, according to Mr. Harper, because he properly sought to raise the issue of human rights, which Beijing sees as a no-go area.
China's human rights abuses are worrying. Freedom of expression is severely limited; religious freedom is largely ignored; academic freedom is limited on political issues deemed sensitive by China's Communist masters; freedom of assembly is restricted; independent labour unions are prohibited; the judiciary is controlled by China's Communist Party; minorities and those suffering from HIV/AIDS endure severe discrimination.
China not only abuses human rights at home, but exports abuse as well -- even to Canada. In 1999, China outlawed Falun Gong, a peaceful (if odd) spiritual movement founded in 1992. Since then, China's government has waged a hate campaign against the movement. In Canada, Chinese-sponsored media have distributed anti-Falun Gong propaganda, and consular officials openly libel Canadians who practice Falun Gong as being members of a "sinister cult." They also document Chinese students in Canada who associate with Falun Gong practitioners at our universities.
Previous Liberal governments did little but offer sympathy to Falun Gong practitioners. They also heeded warnings from China's government not to raise human rights issues, lest bilateral trade relations be adversely affected. Apparently, nothing has changed on the Liberal benches. In a recent press release, Keith Martin, a Liberal MP, laments that China's President would not meet formally with our Prime Minister, and claims that what Canadians really want is "healthy trade relations that result in jobs and prosperity in every region of the country."
The price paid by Canada for that "healthy relationship" would be to stand idly by while China's Communist government abuses the rights of its citizens. That Mr. Harper refuses to pay that price is a testament to his commitment to human rights.
In the end, Mr. Harper did have an informal meeting with China's President at the APEC summit, during which both trade and human rights were discussed. Whatever Mr. Harper told Mr. Hu at that meeting, it was secondary to the larger message he'd already sent -- that our commitment to human rights will not be turned on and off according to the preferences of Beijing's Communist government.