Ottawa can't afford damaged relations with China, says analyst
Vancouver Sun[Friday, September 08, 2006 18:00]
By Peter O'Neil,
CanWest News Service

Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Jason Kenney holds a news conference in Ottawa.
Photograph by : Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Jason Kenney holds a news conference in Ottawa. Photograph by : Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand
Ottawa - Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government has angered China by sending senior MPs to Vancouver to honour the Dalai Lama's visit, hasn't developed a clear policy towards Beijing, according to one of Canada's top China-watchers.

But Paul Evans, co-chief executive of the federal government-funded Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, said Canada has too much at stake to let relations deteriorate over issues such as human rights and the future of Tibet.

"I don't think that the Conservative government has yet formulated an integrated China policy," Evans, a professor at the University of British Columbia's Liu Institute for Global Studies, wrote on Thursday in an e-mail to The Vancouver Sun. "There are some hints of a new tone and approach but nothing concrete yet."

Calgary MP Jason Kenney, Harper's parliamentary secretary and a frequent critic of China's human-rights record, will meet privately on Saturday with Tibet's exiled political and spiritual leader. Immigration Minister Monte Solberg will attend the Nobel laureate's public talk on "happiness" at GM Place later that day.

Zhang Weidong, a minister-counsellor at China's embassy in Ottawa, said his government objects to the Canadian government's involvement in the events because China views the Dalai Lama as a political activist pushing for Tibet's independence from China.

The Chinese previously objected in June when Parliament unanimously passed a motion by a Tory MP giving the Dalai Lama honourary citizenship.

In April, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay voiced concern about Chinese agents spying inside Canada a charge China labelled baseless.

Evans said the Harper government isn't venturing into new territory, given that former prime minister Paul Martin met privately with the Dalai Lama in 2004 over China's objections. And while he said it's premature to determine whether the Harper government is taking a harder line on China, he warned any deterioration would be counter-productive.

"Canada has a big interest in maintaining a positive relationship with China for several reasons, including, economic ties, promoting human rights and good governance, and collaboration on a full range of global issues, from environment to security," he wrote. "It's difficult to conceive that a deterioration in relations would advance any of these interests."

Weidong also said this week he believes the new Tory government is still in the process of developing a policy on China. He acknowledged concern over some steps taken by the Tories, and said current tensions could be negatively impacting on stalled talks to give Canada greater access to China's booming tourism market.

"I don't think you can link these two (the tourism negotiations and issues like Tibet) too closely, but certainly the environment the atmosphere_ will have some effects, impacts," Weidong said. "If two persons are very friendly then they can solve everything, but if they have some trouble in other fields certainly the relationship will be influenced."