Sunday, October 05, 2008

Lobbing Softballs

Epoch Times declines to ask Michael Byers about his China dilemma

In the most recent issue of the Epoch Times Michael Byers, the NDP candidate in Vancouver Centre, is profiled.

Over the course of the interview, Byers is asked about his dedication to human rights. What transpires is as follows:

"Epoch Times - You’re known as a strong human rights advocate….

Michael Byers - Nationally and internationally, because I’ve spent most of my life working on international law, international politics, human rights elsewhere are very important to me. Obviously, we’re talking about the genocide in Darfur, in Sudan, for instance, or the repression that exists in Burma. Or the human rights questions in the People’s Republic of China. These are issues that matter to me. I don’t see them as simplistic, but I believe very strongly in the fundamental importance of human rights.
And thus ends that.

But some may find it very curious that the Epoch Times -- a publication that has shown its sympathies to the Falun Gong movement on countless occasions -- declined to ask Byers any specific questions regarding his views on human rights in China.

Frankly, Byers' bona fides in terms of human rights advocacy aren't as solid as he'd like people to believe. To start off with, Byers is willing to abandon the human rights issue entirely if those who advance them so much as belong to the "wrong" side of the ideological divide.

Few seasoned Byers watchers need to be reminded about his 1 January 2008 op-ed article in the Toronto Star in which Byers criticized Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his "unnecessary quarrels with China over human rights".

As Victoria, BC's Joan Quain would helpfully point out a few days later, Byers' advocacy of a strictly hands-off approach to human rights in China overwhelmingly ignores the scope of some of the abuses being perpetrated there.

Byers also criticized the Canadian government for not participating in a peacekeeping mission in the Sudan, while also overlooking the fact that oil hungry China is heavily involved in Darfur, both as an investor in the Darfur oilfields, as well as selling arms to the Khartoum regime.

In an earlier interview with Vancouver's Georgia Straight, Byers insists that "I don't think we should be silent when it comes to human rights in China, but you cannot influence a country of that size and that power by refusing to establish a relationship."

Never mind the fact that Canada has very much maintained its relationship with China, Byers doesn't explain how he would have the Canadian government advance the human rights cause with China when he so clearly disfavours confrontation with the current Beijing regime over the issue, and Jean Chretien's "good governance and the rule of law" advocacy accomplished absolutely nothing in Beijing aside from showing them how craven Canada's liberal politicians really are when it comes down to that issue.

Byers' stance on China is merely one reason why Canadians should be thankful that the prospects of Michael Byers becoming the Minister of Foreign Affairs are so remote. Not only is this an individual who would simply submit to the intimidating nature of Chinese diplomacy, but is an individual who believes that Iranian prison guards raping and beating a Canadian citizen to death (a la Zahra Kazemi) shouldn't result in so much as a hiccup in diplomatic relations with a country that sponsors and hosts holocaust denial conferences.

It's interesting that the Epoch Times -- a publication with alleged direct ties to the Falun Gong movement -- wouldn't ask Byers about his previously ambivalent position on China.

How would Canada help advance the cause of human rights in China -- vis a vis the Falun Gong movement and otherwise -- under the leadership of an individual who is so clearly terrified to confront China on that particular issue?

Canada wouldn't. Canada couldn't. One would think that a publication like the Epoch Times should have mustered the wisdom to at least ask him about it.

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