Guest Editorial by Consiglio Di Nino and David Kilgour
The Prime Minister's first official visit to China offered a unique opportunity for Canada to intercede on behalf of one of the world's most embattled peoples.
Just days before Mr. Martin's trip to China, a Foreign Affairs spokesperson had said that dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government would be encouraged at official meetings. It now appears from the January 20 joint declaration that Mr. Martin and his officials have instead acceded to China's blunt diplomacy. Nested among its statements can be found a pledge of "mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in each other's internal affairs."
Beneath this veneer, it means Taiwan and Tibet are not Canada's business, and it doesn't matter if political freedoms, fundamental human rights, or basic norms of international law are impinged. Of course the Prime Minister didn't say as much, but his failure to squarely address those issues speaks loudly, particularly to the winning side in a contest between the strong and the weak.
Meanwhile, reports by NGOs such as Amnesty International and the U.S. Department of State continue to find, year after year, that fundamental rights and freedoms are denied to the people of Tibet. Under the grip of Chinese occupation since 1950, Tibet is now threatened by the influx of an endless stream of settlers enticed to the region by discriminatory economic measures, which has been referred to as cultural genocide, and to quote Colin Powell, "seems to be a policy that might well destroy that society."
While the United States, among others, has made resolving the crisis in Tibet an important foreign policy objective, Canada has looked away. For years our government has resisted publicly articulating, let alone actually formulating a policy on Tibet beyond the conveniently amorphous human rights box.
The time has now come for that to change. The enormous public and parliamentary sentiment in support of the Dalai Lama's efforts to save his nation should be enough of an incentive. But if not, then surely the embrace of a principled forward-looking approach to China would argue for it. Such a move fits within the prime minister's stated goal of emphasizing a foreign policy approach that is responsible, focused, and integrated.
There are some who believe that pressing Beijing too hard on Tibet or human rights generally is detrimental to our trade interests. It is simply not true. Even while China continues to threaten war with democratic Taiwan, the two do large and constantly growing business across the Strait. There will always be trade with China. The question is whether the Canadian government will forego its verbal commitment to human rights in pursuit of economic gain.
Mr. Martin may have missed an opportunity to publicly address the issue of Tibet with China's leadership, but there will be others. The Canadian people have already raised their voices on behalf of people who cannot.
The Canadian government has had its time to listen, it is now time to take action on behalf of the silenced citizens of Tibet.
-- Consiglio Di Nino is a Conservative Senator from Ontario and Deputy Chair of the Subcomittee on Foreign Affairs
--David Kilgour is a Liberal Member of Parliament and the Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Development