Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dear Michael: How's That "Nonconfrontational" Thing Going?

Ready to address human rights violations with China yet, Mr Byers?

Those playing close enough attention to what passes for foreign policy debate in Canada may be aware of the rhetoric that is Michael Byers' specialty.

Byers has accused Canada's Conservative government of undermining Canada's role in the world -- or at least what he thinks should be Canada's role in the world. "Stephen Harper has been a disaster for Canadian foreign policy on almost every front," Byers said last year. "It's partly because he doesn't understand the issues, but it's also partly because he doesn't think–or he doesn't want to think–that Canada can play an independent role."

In an undisputably disastrous op/ed article in the Toronto Star on New Year's Day, Byers admonished Stephen Harper for confronting China over human rights abuses.

"[Harper] has also picked unnecessary quarrels with China over human rights," Byers wrote. This was actually proof that Byers doesn't understand the issues, as he in the same article suggested that Canada needed to pull its troops out of the NATO mission in Afghanistan and participate in a United Nations Peacekeeping operation in Sudan -- where China is a prolific investor in the oilfields at the heart of the lingering Darfur crisis.

In recent days, however, it's only been revealed why confronting China over human rights is so vital, as Chinese government crackdowns on Tibetan protests threaten to reach a Tienanmen-esque level.

Now apparently Michael Byers feels that we shouldn't confront China over human rights if it threatens to damage our relationship with them. "I don't think we should be silent when it comes to human rights in China," Byers said, "but you cannot influence a country of that size and that power by refusing to establish a relationship."

But in the wake of this newest round of protests -- videos of which have compelled the Chinese government to block YouTube from the country's internet -- it's clearly time to reevaluate the "let sleeping dogs lie" approach to human rights in China that is clearly favoured by Byers.

Decades of pressuring China on "good governance and the rule of law" -- former Prime Minister Jean Chretien quite deliberately tiptoed around the issue with Chinese authorities -- clearly have done very little to persuade the Chinese state that human rights are important.

Perhaps the video evidence -- which China doesn't want its citizens to see -- would be enough to persuade Mr Byers to change his tune on human rights in China:

Of course, it's only fair to point out that some of the Tibetan protesters are far from angels themselves, although the extent to which Chinese and Tibetan violence is being provoked by violence from the other side actually remains largely unclear:

Then again, when states react to protesters armed -- if at all -- with fists and rocks with tanks it's pretty clear what lies just around the corner.

And this is only the most recent episode in China's exceedingly poor -- to put it lightly -- human rights record.

So the question for Michael Byers at this point is thus:

How's that "nonconfrontational" approach to human rights in China coming along, Michael? Are you ready to cut out the double-talk and get serious about addressing this issue?


  1. And, unfortunately, they allow these (ahem) people to teach our youth. No wonder this country is in the bad shape it is.

  2. What is really tragic is that some people build these individuals up to the extent where they can promote themselves as foreign policy "experts". Then they proceed to disregard any scrap of information that doesn't fit their particular ideological bent.


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