The Toronto Star (Canada): China Invites A Riposte

January 15, 2005 Saturday

Prime Minister Paul Martin probably planned to highlight Canada/China trade and investment on his trip to Beijing next week, rather than human rights controversies.

That will be harder now. Beijing bureaucrats have just forced his hand.

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa embarrassed Martin just as he was preparing to depart today for a 10-day Asia tour, by revoking visas for two Canadian journalists from New Tang Dynasty TV who were to travel with the PM.

NTD is a Chinese-language satellite TV service, run from New York and other centres. Beijing says it is a "propaganda tool" for the Falun Gong movement, which is banned as a [a slanderous word from Jiang regime and the Chinese Communist Party omitted] in China. NTD Canada president Joe Wang denies that, even though some NTD officials and staff practise Falun Gong, the service is often critical of Beijing, and it gives Falun Gong prominent coverage.

Whatever the truth, Martin rightly bristled at Beijing's brazen meddling with Canadian reporters on a trip not only to China but also to Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and Japan.

Martin had planned to quietly urge President Hu Jintao to give Buddhists, Christians and others more freedom. He now has added reason to do so. Only publicly.

Martin may also want to take up the cases of people and groups who Amnesty International says have been harassed or jailed unfairly. They include an AIDS activist, a lawyer who defended families evicted from their homes, a whistleblower for Christians who faced abuse, a worker's rights lobbyist and other activists.

Beijing's attempt to dictate to Martin which reporters he may have with him invites a firm prime ministerial pushback. It's a reminder that China has a long way to go in truly "opening up" to the wider world.

Canada and China now have $1 trillion invested in each other's economy. Canada will buy $21 billion worth of goods from China this year, and China will buy $7 billion from Canada. This is a healthy commercial relationship worth nurturing.

Beijing's media censorship, religious intolerance and suppression of dissidence betray a contempt for due process and the law that does not enhance our relationship. Nor does China's fear of political pluralism.

These are points Martin must make on his trip. He has good reason.

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