Dharamshala — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday said he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the importance of freedom of expression and acceptance of diversity, and encouraged China to do more to protect human rights.
As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau begins his first official visit to China, the Canadian Coalition for Human Rights in China - which include Tibet Support Groups, Canada-Hong Kong Link and Amnesty International Canada - strongly urged Trudeau and his government to "make human rights a priority" during his trip.
Those are "not easy conversations to have", but are necessary ones, Trudeau said at a reception held in Shanghai. Trudeau is seeking deeper ties with China but a dispute over canola trade, government divisions over China policy and the case of a detained citizen could limit his gains. He said on Wednesday that he hopes for a long-term solution with China on their dispute over the safety of canola exports from Canada.
"I remind everyone that as a country that has seen first hand the benefits of free expression and good governance — Canada encourages China to do more to promote and protect human rights," the Prime Minister said Thursday in his 22-minute speech at a dinner organized by the Canada China Business Council in Shanghai.
In meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, he said, he had argued the value of diverse perspectives – an oblique way of calling out China for its oppressive Internet censorship and police regime, which it uses to suppress threats to Communist Party primacy.
"In the global village, we all have stake in what happens here. The success of the world is inexorably linked to China's success, and I know that these are not easy conversations to have, but they are necessary ones."
Trudeau also met Thursday with Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Trudeau also said that freedom of expression is a "true Canadian value" protected by the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"In a world of rapid change, it is a diversity of ideas, and the free ability to express them, that drives positive change," Mr. Trudeau said, according to media reports.
The comments mark his strongest to date on his first trip to China as Prime Minister. Under pressure at home to send an unflinching message against China's intensifying clampdown on dissent and "Western values," Mr Trudeau has chosen his words carefully to avoid angering his hosts and spoiling the "new era" in cross-Pacific relations he wants to build.
In that, he has almost certainly succeeded. Far from taking a stern tone, he has been largely complimentary toward China and its leadership. The prime minister's direct remarks came during a week-long official visit to China aimed at forging deeper commercial and cultural bonds between the two countries.
Building closer economic ties will make it easier for China and Canada to speak frankly about governance, human rights and the rule of law, Trudeau told several hundred people at an event hosted by the Canada China Business Council.
Trudeau even went so far as to broach the subject of gender equality. "See, we're Canadians — we travel with our values and we don't hesitate to share them whenever and wherever we see opportunities," he said before glancing purposefully at the table in front of the stage. "And actually, there's an opportunity here tonight — gentlemen, it's 2016. We need more women at this head table."
It's not the first time a great Canadian prime minister has spoken bravely while in China about the ever-present issue of that country's human rights record. During a landmark 1998 visit, Chretien told students at Beijing University that Canadians find it disturbing to "hear of people being harassed or imprisoned for expressing political views different from the government."
In the past, the Chinese communist leadership has not taken seriously to public criticism of its human rights record, particularly from peace loving countries. But, unlike disgraced leaders, Trudeau bravely mentioned the words "human rights," "freedom of expression," "Middle class". "Jobs" and then of-course "Economy" .
State-run news agency critical of Canada urged Canada to look within its borders at its own reputation on the treatment of Aboriginal Peoples, some of whom live in "miserable conditions." The item added the "so-called human rights issue" comes from the "West's long-standing prejudice and arrogance against China."
On Wednesday, Canada's ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, said the country has been moving backwards over the past three years when it comes to personal freedoms, particularly its censorship of the Internet. "That's why Canada has used opportunities to express its views to China," Saint-Jacques said.
Trudeau's speech also discussed the vast economic potential for both countries across numerous traditional industries like natural resources, but also in newer sectors like clean technology. "We know that when we do build strong and resilient relationships, when we give Canadian businesses more opportunities to succeed — they will succeed," he said.
Earlier Thursday, the Trudeau government announced that Canadian and Chinese companies had signed 56 new commercial contracts and agreements worth $1.2 billion. The Canadian envoy to China said Thursday that until now, visa offices for Chinese tourists were limited to cities where Canada has a diplomatic presence.
Xi's commitment to "Ethnic Unity", "Economy Development" and "Social Stability" in Tibet under the banner of "Peaceful Liberation", nether seeks a peaceful solution nor a signal for a new reform of more openness. But there are plenty of reasons to believe that China is further strengthening an integral element of another "cultural revolution" project not only in Tibet, but entire China.
Many say Xi is revealing the true nature of a Communist regime in Tibet, a similar sense of strategic inviolability characterized by the 20th century's greatest mass murderer, Mao Zedong, who systematically raped, tortured and murdered an estimated 1.2 million Tibetans, one-fifth of the country's population.