Beijing think tank cancels global conference amid Canadian boycott

The formal notice and related story of the cancelled 2020 International Metropolis migration conference in Beijing. One really has to wonder what the International Metropolis co-chairs and Secretariat were thinking when choosing Beijing to host the conference, beyond the finances:

A global migration policy conference Canada played a key role in establishing has been cancelled after its Beijing host pulled out of the event scheduled for June.

The 2020 International Metropolis Conference was at the centre of a boycott led by Canadian scholars over China’s poor human rights record: the repression of the Muslim Uighur and Tibetan minorities; threats to Hong Kong’s legal and judicial independence; and the ongoing detention of foreign nationals, including Canadian businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig.

In an email to participating researchers and policy-makers last week, Professors Jan Rath of the Netherlands and Paul Spoonley of New Zealand, co-chairs of the event’s steering committee, said they regretted but respected the decision by the Centre for China and Globalization to pull out of the conference. Boycotters had argued that the centre is part of the Chinese apparatus and feared it would be used to legitimize the Communist regime’s policies and practices.

“We can understand that external pressures have complicated the organization of the event,” said the letter. “An International Metropolis Conference in Beijing would have offered an opportunity for members of the Metropolis network to meet and engage with their counterparts in that country and in the region, and vice-versa, in the interest of enhanced mutual understanding of migration developments.”

Andrew Griffith, a former director-general of the Canadian immigration department who led the boycott with others, welcomed the cancellation.

“The regime’s ongoing human rights abuses and cultural genocide efforts regarding minorities like the Uighurs make China an inappropriate host for an open discussion of migration issues, where human rights are central,” Griffith told the Star.

The conference had been organized by the International Metropolis Network, made up of experts from around the world in migration and settlement policies as a platform where state officials, non-government organizations and researchers share ideas and discuss best policies to manage migration and integration.

Canada was instrumental in the establishment of the international network of experts, with one of the organization’s three secretariats at Carleton University. The annual conference attracts as many as 1,000 participants and presenters a year and has been held around the world.

Organizers maintain that Metropolis has always been an “apolitical” network aimed at fostering understanding of migration issues.

“China has emerged as a major economic power in the world, and as a country with a significant role in migration, whether in Asia or globally. For us to have a comprehensive picture of regional and global migration means understanding China’s role in migration, both as a country of origin and, more recently, a country of destination,” the International Metropolis said in its letter to members. “To ignore China in the field of migration today is to have but a partial understanding of global migration phenomena.”

Griffith disagreed, pointing to the recent denial of entry to Hong Kong of Kenneth Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, a group critical of the Chinese regime, as an example of interference and repression by Beijing.

“For conferences in Western countries, that is largely true, but certainly not in a country like China, which would have used the conference to legitimize its policies and practices and not allow any open discussion of its repression of the Uighurs and other human rights abuses,” said Griffith

The conference’s steering committee said further details will soon be provided on an “alternative” International Metropolis event to replace the cancelled Beijing conference.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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