Friday, June 10, 2016

Michael Chan excuses Chinese boorishness (again)

Ontario Liberal MPP and cabinet minister Michael Chan should be ashamed of himself (and his party should ashamed of him) for his defence of visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's boorish and undiplomatic behaviour last week.
Back on June 1st, Mr. Wang reacted aggressively to a perfectly reasonable press question about China's human rights record and their treatment of Kevin Garratt (who is still languishing in a Chinese jail for alleged spying). Wang, rather than answering the question with the usual diplomatic platitudes, evaded the question completely and shot back, "Your question is full of prejudice against China and arrogance ... I don't know where that comes from. This is totally unacceptable", adding, "Please don't ask questions in such an irresponsible manner. We welcome goodwill suggestions but we reject groundless or unwarranted accusations". He claimed that only the Chinese were qualified to talk about China's human rights record (even if that were true, that is exactly what he, as China's official representative, was being asked to do).
Whatever the outburst might indicate about China's hypersensitivity to widespread condemnation of its human rights record, the fact remains that Wang's tantrum was totally inappropriate. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister St├ęphane Dion hopped from foot to foot uncomfortably and ineffectually as he usually does, but made no attempt to defend the hapless reporter. Dion claims that he and Wang had already had "mature and respectful discussions on our respective positions" on Chinese human rights and China's aggressive claims in the East China Sea, but his humble and impotent response to Wang in public gives us a good idea of just how tame his approach probably was in private. I suspect that the "respect" was largely a one-way affair.
Anyway, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau contented himself with an anodyne statement about Canada's “dissatisfaction” with Mr. Wang's antics, the whole thing died down. Then, Chinese-born MPP Michael Chan, who is technically the Ontario Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade, and not an apologist for the Chinese government, waded in with comments in a Canadian Chinese-language blog suggesting that, instead of looking at Chinese human rights as they exist today, we should instead be thankful for how much they have improved over the last 40 years.
Instead of dealing with the incident he was questioned about, Chan lists booming economic growth, increased ease of tourism, and the wider latitude for Chinese students to study abroad, as important achievements for China during the last 40 years. This may well be the case, but these achievements have nothing to do with Chinese attitudes towards human rights, which appear to have changed little, and they should not be used as excuses or to deflect appropriate criticism.
Mr. Chan already has a record of some inappropriately pro-Chinese statements (sometimes at the expense of Canada) and some rather murky behind-the-scenes activities. He has been the subject of several allegations that he is too close to the Chinese consulate in Toronto; he has been berated for active lobbying for the controversial Confucius Institute to come to Toronto’s school board, and for hiring two staffers known for pro-Chinese regime activities; he has praised China’s anti-corruption campaign, which many critics see as merely a new way for the leadership to purge its enemies; and he has apparently been seen pumping his fist in the air and shouting "Long Live the Motherland" in Mandarin.
Now, some of these may be allegations only, but it does seem that his allegiances are severely conflicted for someone in his sensitive and powerful position. These latest comments are not helping his case any.

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