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Answering China's challenge
Excerpted from an address by Hon. David Kilgour, J.D., at a panel on Canada/ China relations at The Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen's University on Nov. 8

The Kingston Whig-Standard, November 12, 2007

My respect for the people of China and their country is longstanding. It grew during visits to various centres both as Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) in 2002-03 and earlier as a member of Parliament. Hong Kong, for example, is one of my favourite cities in the world. Shanghai is outstanding, but so are Beijing, Guangzhou, Nanking and many others. It is no accident that the more than one million Canadians of origin in the Middle Kingdom are reportedly our best-educated ethno-cultural community. It was an honour to represent some of them in Parliament for about 27 years.

Let me also stress here something that some diplomats, sinologists, journalists and business executives occasionally forget: China is its peoples, cultures, land and natural environment, and history far more than its unelected government. My criticisms are of the party-state, not at all of the long-suffering and terribly hard-working Chinese people. The current Hu-Wen government, like its predecessors, continues to inflict enormous harm upon its own population, their natural environment and upon other peoples around the world.

Perhaps, like some of you, I grew up thinking that Mao Zedong was the wise and even benign founder of modern China. Many Canadians know about the period of Canada's Dr. Norman Bethune in China. In fact, Mao was carried throughout the Long March; Bethune arrived in "liberated areas" only after the march was completed. Some also read undiluted propaganda about Mao, such as Edgar Snow's Red Star over China. As a naive graduate student in Paris in 1969-1970, I valued my Little Red Book and listened to favourable commentators about Maoism, and believed some of them.

Today, thanks to a number of more independent and better-researched works, we know many of the appalling things that happened under Mao's absolute and bloody dictatorship.

As one of Canada's three living honorary citizens, the world-renowned Dalai Lama, recently visited Ottawa and Toronto, allow me to illustrate the more modern approach to Maoism by what the book Mao, The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, says in part about Mao's treatment of the Tibetan people:

"In early 1959, Mao wrote about the uprising then underway in Tibet, caused in part by drastically increased food requisitions there because of the famine conditions created by Mao's insensate 'Great Leap Forward': 'This (rebellion) is ... a good thing. Because this makes it possible to solve our problems through war.' When word spread later that Mao planned to kidnap the then very young Dalai Lama, thousands of Tibetans passed in front of his palace, shouting 'Chinese get out.' Mao cabled that the Dalai Lama should be allowed to escape because he feared his death would 'inflame world opinion,' particularly in the Buddhist countries and India, which Mao was courting. Once he had escaped, Mao told his men: 'Do all you can to hold the enemies in Lhasa (Tibet's capital) ... so when our main force arrives we can surround them and wipe them out.' "

The Dalai Lama, with his message of compassion and limited autonomy for Tibet, was welcomed enthusiastically by many thousands from myriad backgrounds during his recent visit, despite the criticism from voices of the party-state in Beijing. On the day after some of the most dire threats were made, Bombardier of Montreal announced the largest single passenger-train deal in Chinese history ($569 million). Standing up for universal values has not cost a single export to China from any country since 1978 as far as I can determine, for the reason that international trade is done everywhere for self-interest reasons, and perhaps nowhere more than in China today.

Let me jump ahead to the present activities of the heirs of Mao at home and abroad.

There are policy prescriptions for democracies like Canada in many books on contemporary China, which seem especially useful between now and the Beijing Olympic Games of August 2008, while the Hu-Wen government is paying attention to world opinion. As one illustration, the Chinese Medical Association recently agreed with the World Medical Association that "organ tourists" will obtain no more transplants in China. All of us around the world deeply concerned about organ pillaging from Falun Gong practitioners will watch to see whether this verbal step in a better direction is to be enforced. One worry we have is that the organs seized from unwilling "donors" across China will now go to Chinese patients, with the grotesque commerce thus continuing in the same volume. You can find an open letter to the World Medical Association under "Organ Pillaging and Falun Gong" at

David Matas and I concluded to our horror following our independent investigation that since the latter part of 2000, the government of China and its agencies have murdered thousands of Falun Gong practitioners across China without any form of prior trial and then sold their vital organs for large sums of money, often to "organ tourists" from wealthy countries. There are not many independent persons we know who have read our report who are not convinced of the validity of its dismaying conclusion (Our report is available in 18 languages at www.organhar

None of these deaths would be occurring if the Chinese people as a whole enjoyed the rule of law and their government believed in the intrinsic worth and dignity of each one of them. Human life in China appears to have no more value to those in power there than does the natural environment, work safety, health care for all, or the lives of African residents in Darfur or monks and students in Burma. In my opinion, it is the lethal combination of totalitarian governance and "anything goes" capitalism that allows this new form of evil in the world to continue across the Middle Kingdom today.

All trading partners of China should be pushing the Hu-Wen government harder to change its mercantilist economic policies, which are clearly designed to reduce jobs and production everywhere else in the world and could, in time, ruin the entire world trading system. As China moves up the technology ladder, it is becoming the low-cost export platform for more and more industries. The well-known writer Robert Samuelson added his voice to many others earlier this year in saying that the centrepiece of China's policy is the wildly undervalued exchange rate for the yuan, which is perhaps 40 per cent lower than it should be and is unfairly boosting China's exports, output and jobs at the expense of all its trading partners. Just consider what our loonie, which, unlike the government-manipulated and essentially immovable yuan, has soared by roughly 25 per cent against the U.S. dollar over the past year is doing to the competitiveness of Canadian exporters.

Closely related to this trading environment is how the government in Beijing continues to mistreat its own population in order to keep down domestic consumption, including the absence of an effective social safety net. For example, less than a fifth of Chinese workers have pensions; even fewer are covered by unemployment insurance.

The state of public health in China today is gravely troubling to all friends of its people abroad, in large part because of the "no limits" and "pollute anything" capitalism the regime has encouraged since 1978. Consider the article by Joseph Hahn and Jim Yardley carried in The New York Times on Aug. 26, 2007, under the headline "As China roars, pollution reaches deadly extremes." Among their observations:

Only one per cent of the nation's city dwellers are breathing air considered safe by the European Union. Rapidly expanding car ownership and low-grade gasoline have now made vehicles the leading source of air pollution in major cities across China.

China's environmental problems are becoming those of the world. Japan and South Korea, for example, are now hit by sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from coal-fired plants in China. Coal provides about two-thirds of China's energy, and it already burns more of it than Europe, Japan and the U.S. combined.

Multinational companies from outside China building manufacturing facilities in the country are degrading the natural environment there by dumping waste in rivers and pumping smoke into the sky.

Last spring, a World Bank study concluded that outdoor and indoor air pollution was contributing to the premature deaths of Chinese nationals in the 750,000 range each year.

In such conditions, what is the response of China's health-care system? My source here is The Coming China Wars. The author, Peter Navarro, has a PhD in economics from Harvard University, has published six other books and is a professor at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California.

Navarro concludes that the once-vaunted public health system in China has now disintegrated. "There is a shortage of doctors and sick people are forced to pay for their health care upfront. Those lacking the means to pay are cast out of hospitals and left to die an often slow and painful death. A big part of the problem is the cost of medical insurance - $50 to $200 per year - in a country where the annual per-capita income for the vast majority of the population remains well below $1,000."

One of Mao's policy successes on assuming control in Beijing in 1949 was the health-care system. Taxation funded the care of civil servants. Government-owned companies and rural co-operatives provided coverage for their employees, including retired ones. The achievements during the three decades it lasted included a large drop in infant mortality and more than doubling life expectancy.

In the 1980s, virtually all of it was abandoned. Decollectivization ended the co-operatives and the 90 per cent of the farmers formerly covered by health care dropped to 10 per cent. Some of the former government companies, upon being privatized, cut out health care for employees; others went bankrupt. The central government, between 1980 and 2004, also cut funding for health care by more than half, from 36 per cent to 17 per cent.

Under the new privatized model, doctors, hospitals and pharmacies were made "profit centres" and were expected to finance their activities through patient fees. With this collapse of the health-care systems, coupled with continuing totalitarian governance, you can better understand the context for organ pillaging. This began to occur once a total war on practitioners of Falun Gong had in effect been declared - primarily because of paranoia at the highest levels of the Party - caused by the rapidly rising numbers of practitioners in mid-summer, 1999.

In far too many countries around our shrunken planet, including Sudan/Darfur, Burma, North Korea and Zimbabwe, the role of the government of China is destructive and promotes official corruption. For example, is it not likely that the protesting monks and protesters shot dead by the soldiers of the generals a few weeks ago in Burma were killed by Chinese bullets fired from Chinese-made rifles?

How could such a regime be awarded the Olympic Games for next summer by the International Olympic Committee? Virtually all independent human rights organizations say that human dignity has deteriorated across China since the games were awarded. There is some new indication of this virtually every week. Recently, for example, came word from the Beijing organizers that it will be illegal for anyone attending the Games to bring a Bible into China.

Here, then, are five policy proposals in respect of Canada-China relations which would change the dynamics of our relationship and apply more realistic approaches:

1) Canadian jobs and our economy must be the priority.

According to a survey of more than 1,000 Canadian businesses by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) released last month, one- fifth of Canadian manufacturers have responded to the rising loonie by shifting production to China. A well-informed Montrealer told me last week that approximately 70 companies from his province would not be manufacturing in China now without Export Development Corporation (EDC) financial help. With some phone calls, I was not able to determine the extent and nature of EDC assistance to such relocations - if any - but no taxpayer money should be going to relocate jobs to China or anywhere else. Goodyear Tire laid off about 850 employees when it closed its manufacturing facility near Montreal several months ago in favour of moving to China, yet the U.S. government has since announced the recall of many tires made in China because of a possible safety hazard.

2) Our values must be asserted continuously in dealings with Beijing.

All democratic governments, including Canada's, must cease being delusional about the party-state in Beijing. There were approximately 87,000 protests across China in 2005 alone about everything from massive rural unemployment to corruption to poor health care. The regime continues to rely on repression and brutality to maintain itself in office, but what are Canadian diplomats in China effectively doing to show themselves to be the friends of the poor, persecuted and abused? What are they doing to advance the rule of law and human dignity? Canada should seek to replay in China the important role we had in establishing popular democracy in South Africa in the late 1980s.

3) Apply some lessons of non-violent civic resistance elsewhere to China.

There are lessons presumably to be applied very carefully (in light of the Tiananmen protest experience in 1989 and elsewhere since) in China from the non-violent civic resistance which occurred in Russia, Ukraine, the Philippines, Chile, Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic states, South Africa, Serbia, Peru, Georgia, Romania and other nations. Each was different in terms of boycotts, mass protests, strikes and civil disobedience. In all, authoritarian rulers were delegitimized and their sources of support, including their armed defenders, abandoned them. The government of Canada should make it clear to all that it stands with the oppressed people of China and seeks a peaceable transition to the rule of law and democratic government.

4) Zero tolerance for unfair trading practices.

There should in future be zero tolerance in Canada when unfair trade practices are used by the government of China or exporters there, including theft of intellectual property and the continued refusal to honour commitments made to the World Trade Organization upon joining in 2001. Our border and other customs personnel should, for example, work much more carefully to seize counterfeit products made in China or anywhere and to seize precursor chemicals used to manufacture cocaine, heroin, speed and Ecstasy.

5) The key strategic partners for Canada in Asia must be India and Japan until China democratizes.

Until China becomes a democracy, Canada's strategic partners in East Asia should be Japan and India, in large part because both are longtime democracies with independent judges, the rule of law and support for human dignity. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, during her recent visit to India, has made essentially the same point in respect of India. We should also pay much more attention to other partners in Southeast Asia than has been the case over the past decade.

- David Kilgour is a former federal secretary of state for Asia-Pacific, and for Latin America and Africa.

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