Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday October 2, 1999
China’s Future Tied to Human Rights Progress
China has much to be proud of as it prepares for the new millennium with aspirations of world leadership. The emerging Asian giant is making remarkable progress in overcoming economic hardship, social turmoil and political isolation despite five decades in the grip of a totalitarian regime. It would be wrong to dismiss the significance of celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Communist rule, even if they are orchestrated by the state.
China is well on the way to wielding tremendous economic and political influence around the globe — a prospect that inspires both hope and fear in the international community. Will China’s leaders use their power to make the world a better place, or will they embark on a dangerous course of sabre-ratting abroad and continued repression at home?
While the Chinese government is kick-starting the once-moribund country by moving to a market economy, it’s not close to accepting all of the responsibilities of becoming a respected member of the family of nations. The paranoid, often ruthless regime maintains a shameful record on human rights, runs roughshod over freedom of the press and religion, and won’t implement democratic reform. Equally disturbing, China is taking an aggressive international posture. That’s evident in China’s bellicose and threatening rhetoric about Taiwan, its harsh criticism of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan’s recent bid to make the UN the chief arbiter of international disputes, and the giant, Soviet-style parade of military hardware in Beijing this week.
The Western democracies, led by the United States with Canada a prominent member of the cast, must make healthy relations with China a cornerstone of foreign policy. A two-track approach, balanced between the carrot and the stick, is best. We can’t afford to shut the door on closer economic ties with the Chinese — for their sake and ours. But that’s no excuse to softpeddle our concerns about rampant human rights abuses.
The Chretien government, especially, consistently appeases China. Last month Can ada rejected the idea of broadening the scope of the trade-oriented Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum to include human rights. Canadian offic ials suggested China might leave APEC if it were criticized. Canada’s experience with Cuba demonstrates that hardline regimes don’t take our professed concerns about human rights seriously.
We shouldn’t hesitate to express our views candidly and publicly, and reinforce them with bold diplomatic steps. There are risks, but strong leadership brings rewards. Democracy and human rights are every bit as important as prosperity for China. Ottawa, and Washington, must send that unequivocal message to Beijing. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial, D12, 10/2/1999)